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Old 11-15-2020, 04:16 PM   #1
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
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Year: 1999
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Chassis: Chevy Express 3500
Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
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Hello from Spanaway, WA

Hi. I live out near Tacoma, WA, and I've been itching to start a bus build for a while now. I have some basic issues with doing a build that maybe someone around here could have some insight on...

My plan currently is to do a short-bus conversion, but I still have the mental thought of doing a full-size bus, and make the back 18ft or so into a drive-in garage to haul a small car (like VW Golf) with me when I travel...

My main problems:
1) I live in suburbia. I have nowhere to actually work on a bus. There is one option near me, a storage/rental garage place where it's actually zoned to work on your vehicle 24/7 if you wish... but a bay that's big enough for a short-bus runs around $600/month... and if I wanted to do a full-size bus, quite a bit more... So, what do others in similar situations end up doing?

2) Once I have the thing done, there's then the parking issue. I think I'd probably need to find RV parking, which is not that hard around here, but isn't exactly cheap.

3) I need to learn to weld.


Hopefully I'll have an actual desired floorplan laid out for both options relatively soon, but probably will not start a build until May time frame...
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Old 11-15-2020, 06:33 PM   #2
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Welcome! I have compiled a sort of primer for newcomers... I will be PM'ing it with some other info shortly.
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Old 11-15-2020, 07:36 PM   #3
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
Posts: 146
Year: 1999
Coachwork: MidBus
Chassis: Chevy Express 3500
Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
Rated Cap: 19
Thank you. This is very much appreciated, and brings plenty of wisdom to a daunting task ahead of me ;)
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Old 11-16-2020, 12:15 AM   #4
Bus Nut
 
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Hello from Port Angeles. Not far from you.
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Old 11-16-2020, 12:35 AM   #5
Skoolie
 
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Year: 1999
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Yeah, not TOO far... You wouldn't happen to know of places to build out a schoolie in the general area, would you? Sometimes living in suburbia sucks pretty hard.
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Old 11-27-2020, 02:56 PM   #6
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
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Year: 1999
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Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
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Update time...

So, I have a 12x24 ft parking spot setup at a local storage unit (and upgradable to a 12x32 ft or larger if needed). I've decided to do the actual work in my driveway, then drive it to the parking spot at the end of weekend, basically... Unless my neighbors get uppity (which I doubt, but we'll see).

I also have a possible target bus I'm looking at. It's relatively local (2h drive down I5, 2/3 of the way to Portland, OR). I'm currently looking at the local diesel mechanics as I'm sure I will need their services.

The actual bus I'm considering (the link didn't work at first):

https://beirdo-share.s3.amazonaws.co...s-20201127.jpg



This is a 1999 G3500 cutaway with a GM 6.5L Turbo diesel engine (pre-Duramax) and automatic transmission. I plan on heading down there likely Monday, and the owner said he can even bring it up here on his trailer (which appears to be what it's on in the picture). As the engine is making "slightly odd sounds", I've asked him to actually create a video with the engine running so I can hear it (and consult mechanics and/or you guys) before heading down there, but if it's not a cracked head or something else major, I think I'm good with the $3500 price tag.

Gonna have to think of a name for the wee hosebeast should I get it.
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Old 11-27-2020, 02:59 PM   #7
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Yeah, the link doesn't work. Hard to say without more pics. Rust is a factor if it exists, but minor rust is not a big deal. A common thing with these is their tendency to reset the engine hour reading at random, on the models so equipped. And engine hours mean everything, miles do not tell the whole story.

6.2 and 6.5 Detroit diesels are known for stress cracks in the heads and blocks at high miles. I would proceed with caution here. Easy way to check for this is to open the radiator cap when cold, then start. If a lot of coolant gets pushed out of the radiator on startup, or the coolant bubbles before the engine is anywhere close to operating temp, this is an indication that exhaust pressure is coming through the head into the cooling jacket, a sign of a cracked head. And this will show almost immediately on a cold start. Coolant should not bubble at all, but especially when cold.

Also, check the oil for signs of fuel or coolant odor. I highly recommend getting the fluids analyzed on any candidate to verify the health (or not) of any candidate. It takes time, but is cheap compared to buying a basket case.

Another common thing with some of these is blowing PCM fuses at random. GM is also known for hit-and-miss strength / longevity of their transmissions.
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:04 PM   #8
Skoolie
 
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Location: Spanaway, WA
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Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
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The nice thing is: this is well within my comfort-zone for driving, as I've driven U-Hauls all the way up to 26', including a 24' one on a 500km trip ending in downtown Toronto...

Also, it's small enough that other than being a school bus, it's not CDL territory, especially once the seats are stripped out. Its GVWR is about 11000lb. As the goal is to be for me alone, so I can "work from campsite" rather than being stuck only in the house for the forseeable future... This looks about the size I want. For now. Maybe later I'll buy a nice used coach and convert that to my retirement RV... but not right now.
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:05 PM   #9
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
Posts: 146
Year: 1999
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Try reloading, I fixed the permissions on the server-side.
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:05 PM   #10
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There's a big difference between the Van and bus shorties, mainly GVWR. Just keep in mind that you will have limits to how much you can fit weight wise on that bus. Also, any "odd sounds" mean someone is gonna have to get under that hood and I think most mechanics hate working on those because it's difficult. I'd read a few build threads from bus/van shorties and they will help you decide pros/cons of that bus you are looking at.
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:11 PM   #11
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An easy way to determine if those odd sounds are in the engine is to remove the serpentine belt and start the engine. Let it run for a minute, and if the sound is no longer there, you're looking at an issue in the accessory drive (usually an easy fix).
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:14 PM   #12
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
Posts: 146
Year: 1999
Coachwork: MidBus
Chassis: Chevy Express 3500
Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
Rated Cap: 19
As this bus has lived its entire live in Washington State (where we don't use sand OR salt on the roads most of the time) - specifically in Marysville, north of Seattle, rust isn't too high on my list of worries.

The engine, however... is. If it's not cracked, then I'm probably about $1-2k of "bulletproofing" to go on it if I want to be super-careful from what I've seen on some youtube (I know, not the most reliable source) videos.

If I go down on Monday, I'm going to see if I can get the bus to a shop down there for an inspection before handing over cash. If it fails, I'm only out the cost of the inspection, and the diesel I use in my car to get there and back (I drive a Mercedes E320 CDI).

I like your idea of starting it cold without the radiator cap on though. That's a simple test for sure. That and checking oil for odors (I would presume with the dipstick?)
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:19 PM   #13
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
Posts: 146
Year: 1999
Coachwork: MidBus
Chassis: Chevy Express 3500
Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
Rated Cap: 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maligator. View Post
There's a big difference between the Van and bus shorties, mainly GVWR. Just keep in mind that you will have limits to how much you can fit weight wise on that bus
Yeah, my plans are fairly spartan (it's a pretty tiny bus, really). Thinking twin-size bed, and a table/desk where I can work... and then a small kitchen area, and maybe a shower, and a composting toilet so I don't have to get out in the middle of the night...

If this goes well, there's a good chance I'll get something else in the 32-40' range for when I'd want to go out with my step-kids (in their 20s) and their significant others...
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:21 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beirdo View Post
As this bus has lived its entire live in Washington State (where we don't use sand OR salt on the roads most of the time) - specifically in Marysville, north of Seattle, rust isn't too high on my list of worries.

The engine, however... is. If it's not cracked, then I'm probably about $1-2k of "bulletproofing" to go on it if I want to be super-careful from what I've seen on some youtube (I know, not the most reliable source) videos.

I like your idea of starting it cold without the radiator cap on though. That's a simple test for sure. That and checking oil for odors (I would presume with the dipstick?)
The 'bulletproofing' you refer to I'm pretty sure applies to the Ford 6.0 PowerStroke. Never heard of anything like that with the 6.2 / 6.5. Though it could certainly be a thing, just that I hadn't heard of it.

One of the key weak points with these engines were that they did not really have enough head bolts to provide adequate clamping pressure for longevity in respect to head gaskets, so head gaskets have been known to be an issue on these as well, though I believe not as common as the stress crack failures.

If you do buy it and replacement becomes necessary later, you may want to consider a carb'd 454 / 700-R4 swap to gas, or a 1982 'red-block' 6.2 engine. These had a high nickle content in the block casting and are less prone to such failures. And I'm pretty sure the 6.5 turbo intake can be swapped to it. Just a few thoughts.

And yes, smelling the oil for signs of diesel fuel or coolant odors.

Oh, and be sure to allow the glow plugs to cycle, it will start much easier. Most newbies aren't used to diesels needing glow plugs to help starting.
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:41 PM   #15
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Spanaway, WA
Posts: 146
Year: 1999
Coachwork: MidBus
Chassis: Chevy Express 3500
Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
Rated Cap: 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
The 'bulletproofing' you refer to I'm pretty sure applies to the Ford 6.0 PowerStroke. Never heard of anything like that with the 6.2 / 6.5. Though it could certainly be a thing, just that I hadn't heard of it.



Those were the first two I was watching.

The main things to change seem to be:
  1. remove the vacuum pump - it's crap... put in manual waste gate control on the turbo
  2. update the ECM code (this one kinda scares me)
  3. replace the fuel pump with a much better one (from marine use of the same block)
  4. move the PMD to somewhere not hot, and with a real heat sink attached
  5. replace the fan (and clutch) with one from a Duramax
  6. replace the oil cooler line clamps (or the entire oil cooler)
  7. open up the intake and exhaust
  8. put in replacement studs for the head bolts
  9. replace harmonic balancer before it trashes your crankshaft if unbalanced due to age...

Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
One of the key weak points with these engines were that they did not really have enough head bolts to provide adequate clamping pressure for longevity in respect to head gaskets, so head gaskets have been known to be an issue on these as well, though I believe not as common as the stress crack failures.
Yeah, that was one thing that I'd noted.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
If you do buy it and replacement becomes necessary later, you may want to consider a carb'd 454 / 700-R4 swap to gas, or a 1982 'red-block' 6.2 engine. These had a high nickle content in the block casting and are less prone to such failures. And I'm pretty sure the 6.5 turbo intake can be swapped to it. Just a few thoughts.
Well, I specifically would rather have diesel, to be honest. Hopefully it never comes down to a replacement, but we shall see, I suppose.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
And yes, smelling the oil for signs of diesel fuel or coolant odors.
That seems simple enough. And lets me check the oil level while I'm at it too, of course.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
Oh, and be sure to allow the glow plugs to cycle, it will start much easier. Most newbies aren't used to diesels needing glow plugs to help starting.
Yeah. My Mercedes diesel has somewhat spoiled me on that front... even in COLD weather, I've only had to wait a few times to cycle the glow plugs. It definitely starts way better in the cold if you do, and with the bigger block, I expect it will be far more pronounced (the Mercedes is a 3.2L V6, this bus has 6.5L V8 - a lot more thermal mass there!)

I also appreciate the tip with the serpentine belt... If the issue is the vacuum pump (for instance), I'm kinda OK with it, as long as it's safe to drive, as THAT puppy is probably coming off anyways. I likely will want to replace the alternator with a much more beefy one to charge house batteries too. Please not the power steering pump! Isolating the odd noise to being engine vs accessory is a cool idea!
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Old 11-27-2020, 03:44 PM   #16
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One other thing is that automatic transmission flex plates have been known to warp on occasion and smack the block as they rotate. It will sound a bit like rapping on a tin cup with a wrench, and speed up / slow down with engine rpm. If that's what it is, good news, flex plates are cheap. Bad news, trans has to come out to replace it (but gives you an excuse to change the oil and replace oil pan gasket / front / main seals).
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Old 11-27-2020, 09:08 PM   #17
Skoolie
 
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Engine: 6.5L Turbo Diesel
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OK, I was slightly wrong... The bus has lived most of its life on the west coast, but in Marysville, CA, not Marysville, WA. This makes it just north of Sacramento, and even less likely to be salt-infested. Still not worried about rust

Still hoping a video is forthcoming this evening or tomorrow as promised. The sellers of the other two busses I have been considering (one is likely a pass due to being a too-new Ford diesel, the other a Ford V10 gasser, both shuttle busses, not school busses) have not even responded at all. Silly people taking holidays...
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Old 12-02-2020, 04:23 PM   #18
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Join Date: Nov 2020
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Year: 2004
Chassis: 30k
Engine: Isb 5.9 cummins
600 per month

600 a month for a bay to fit a bus is a dream. My shop is 2k a month for rent. I wish rent was that cheap here. Im in the northeast on south shore of Massachusetts.
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Old 12-02-2020, 04:42 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beirdo View Post
The sellers of the other two busses I have been considering (one is likely a pass due to being a too-new Ford diesel, the other a Ford V10 gasser, both shuttle busses, not school busses) have not even responded at all. Silly people taking holidays...
How dare they! Outta the way, we got buses to build!

Actually, it's not just holidays. I have been looking at a couple, and one, I've already gotten two email addresses for contact that have bounced back undeliverable -- interesting in and of itself. Biggest problem is, people post their ads and don't check that all info needed is there, and then they don't check their emails.
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Old 12-02-2020, 04:43 PM   #20
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Location: St. Charles County Missouri
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Year: 1997
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Chassis: 3800
Engine: T444e
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What are the local regulations on parking an RV? Where I live as long as it is on an "improved" surface there is no problem. I am lucky as I can walk outside and tinker on my bus throughout the day if I wish. I think there might be a law/ordinance about having it licensed too but if the neighbors don't say anything there is no way the city would know. That being said my bus is properly licensed. I am just waiting for the state to finish the bus to RV title change. It has passed all the needed inspections
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