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Old 04-23-2020, 08:59 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Looking for my perfect bus 😉

Hi, Iím Barbara. I joined up a few weeks ago. Iíve been reading posts for months, taking notes on engines and transmissions for my full size conventional skoolie-to-be.

I recently realized (and confirmed with some skoolie friends) that a 47 passenger 8window midsize is a better match for my plans (solo travel coast to coast, husband/sailboat and home base in NYC area)Now I donít know what engine/trans/details Iím looking for! My heart wants a Thomas conventional with a wheelchair lift.

What am I looking for???
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Old 04-23-2020, 09:29 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Caplansail View Post
Hi, I’m Barbara. I joined up a few weeks ago. I’ve been reading posts for months, taking notes on engines and transmissions for my full size conventional skoolie-to-be.

I recently realized (and confirmed with some skoolie friends) that a 47 passenger 8window midsize is a better match for my plans (solo travel coast to coast, husband/sailboat and home base in NYC area)Now I don’t know what engine/trans/details I’m looking for! My heart wants a Thomas conventional with a wheelchair lift.

What am I looking for???
There's good, better, best. Some of it really comes down to how you plan to use the bus. Quite a few engine and trans options in that category. First and foremost, can you drive a manual? Driving a stick is a skill that many seem to have abandoned in recent years, which usually means you can get a good deal on a manual-trans bus.

It also depends on the bus you're looking at. In the category you've mentioned, DT360, DT466(E) , T444(E), Navistar 6.9, 7.3, (basically a T444 with a few differences), 9.0, Cummins 5.9 / 8.3 and the Caterpillar 3208 are good choices that were offered in such buses.

The gas engines offered in the older models weren't bad, but be aware most are out of production and could prove difficult to get serviced. Avoid LPG / CNG / hybrids at all costs, unless you know someone who can convert an LPG / CNG engine over to gas or diesel, whichever applies.

A few came with Caterpillar C7s and 3126. Not terrible engines to my knowledge, but they were known to have electronics issues, and I've heard of the occasional head gasket problem as well.

Navistar builds a newer VT365 that Ford marketed as the 6.0 PowerStroke. Some claim Ford unintentionally sabotaged it, others say the engine is junk no matter what it's in. I personally would avoid them like the plague.

The Detroit 8.2 is a fickle beast. Okay engine, but has a wonky fuel setup that makes for a horrible exhaust smell and it is getting harder to find people who know how to service them.

I would stay away from Ford-chassis 2+ ton with hydraulic brakes. Problematic system with expensive parts and no one wants to touch them. Some Navistar buses may or may not have the same system. Some newer ones have an adaptation of this system, a hydraulic system with an air parking brake. Might not be a problem.

Avoid MaxxForce engines at all costs. I drove semis over-the-road a few years, and one carrier I drove just LOVED the International ProStar. I didn't, and neither did most of the drivers. Reason being that most of the MaxxForce engines stayed in the shop once they had some miles on them. I went through seven trucks in seven months, all had that engine.

Transmissions: Automatics are generally Allison, a good name, but not all are created equal. AT545 is what came in most. Basic, weak, and most need attention when they are auctioned off. The MT643 is better, the 2000 is better still, and the MD6030 is a gem. Some of the better ones can be tweaked to get better mileage and perform better through an Easter egg of sorts -- An extra gear hidden in the factory setup.

If you plan on highway cruising, especially mountains, I would skip the AT545-equipped buses, and try to get one with a bigger engine as well, such as the 8.3, DT466. The 5.9, some find to be a little underpowered on hills.

It pays to take your time and research the configuration of any potentials -- It's far easier and cheaper to find a bus better suited to your intended use than to try to make it what you wanted. Remember, these things are 12,000 lb bricks, most of which were built to haul schoolchildren at an average of 25-35 mph, not cruise the interstate at 75 and climb mountains. Also, for mountain driving (if intended) I would highly recommend air brakes and a basic CDL course ( you can learn a lot from your state's Commercial Driver's Manual).

Buses are available all over the country -- be careful when looking at one from the northern half of the country. Rust never sleeps and it has ruined more than one skoolie experience.

One tool that can help greatly in picking a gem or avoiding a headache -- FLUID ANALYSIS. Get samples of the engine oil, coolant, and transmission fluid. Independent analysis of these fluids can reveal whether the bus you're looking at is a good egg or a problem unit.

I would also highly recommend chatting up and befriending a good truck mechanic, they can be indispensable when looking one over. They'll know things to look for that you might not. There are a number of things that those of us here can think of to keep in mind that could happen, but it's best to bring someone who knows what they're looking at, for the reasons we can't think of.

Just my $0.02 (or $2.00, I guess)... Hope all that helps, happy hunting!
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Old 04-24-2020, 09:43 AM   #3
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Thank you for the feedback, that’s $2000 worth of info! I do drive manual, hadn’t thought about the advantage of that. In all my reading over the past year, I don’t remember anyone suggesting a fluid analysis. Would an auction site consider that a reasonable request as part of an inspection?

Which brings up another question. How do I find a good mechanic to look at a bus located across the country from me? I know my first road trip will be a long one to get to upstate NY where my sister has a barn waiting for me.

It’s to my advantage that I’m old enough to be patient waiting for the right bus, and not skilled enough to take on major problems!
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Old 04-24-2020, 01:16 PM   #4
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Thank you for the feedback, that’s $2000 worth of info! I do drive manual, hadn’t thought about the advantage of that. In all my reading over the past year, I don’t remember anyone suggesting a fluid analysis. Would an auction site consider that a reasonable request as part of an inspection?

Which brings up another question. How do I find a good mechanic to look at a bus located across the country from me? I know my first road trip will be a long one to get to upstate NY where my sister has a barn waiting for me.

It’s to my advantage that I’m old enough to be patient waiting for the right bus, and not skilled enough to take on major problems!
Way more than $2000 worth, I suppose, when you account for your time lost in dealing with problems (major and minor) that could have been avoided. Not to mention towing at $100 hookup and $10 / mile average. And you don't even want to think about the cost of replacing a problem engine or transmission that could have been avoided. I take cash, check or credit.. Just kidding....

To clarify what I said about Ford 2+ ton chassis buses -- Those with air brakes are okay. It's the hydraulic-brake ones you want to avoid. I owned one such bus (see my signature) and had to junk an otherwise perfectly good bus with a replacement 429 Jasper engine because of that crappy brake system.

Fluid analysis is an oft-forgotten way to determine condition of mechanicals. Some don't bother with it because it takes time and many people see what they think is the perfect bus and want it right now. Point blank -- a hundred bucks for a diesel mechanic's time in checking a bus over or perhaps $50 to have fluids analyzed can save you a lot more later. Just like the Fram filter commercials -- you can pay a little now, or a lot later.

As I said, tread carefully -- there are a lot more zeroes involved when these have problems. An injection pump can run $1000 or more -- care to take a guess what an engine or transmission replacement costs?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and knowledge is power. There may be a few other things I've neglected to mention (I have irregular sleep patterns and was misfiring a bit last light), but feel free to PM me or ask here on the forum anything you might have questions about. If I don't know, I can probably find out or direct you to someone who does.

As to fluid analysis in regard to auction buses, I can't say for sure. It doesn't hurt or cost anything to ask. You are certainly within your rights to ask to see maintenance records, but they don't necessarily have to supply them. Some selling agencies are okay with printing out what they have, though I'm not sure they will do it for anyone but the winning bidder.

Any 'dealer' should be okay with a fluid analysis request. Be aware, buying from a 'dealer' does not mean you're getting a warranty -- most 'warranties' are effectively 'tail light' warranties -- meaning it expires when they can no longer see your tail lights driving away. Seen a few such tales of woe.

Which reminds me -- Do not deal with Florida Church Bus. They burned someone here badly years ago, and then tried to snow another member / potential buyer with an interestingly skewed version of events, even suggesting the problem bus the member was sold was worth way more than he paid for it in parts. Seriously?

In the event they have changed their business name, I believe the guy's name was Greg Archambault or something like that. I'm almost positive of the last name, and the guy's son got involved with it when he was not involved in any way with the transaction in question.

This is a hobby that quite a few get into and realize they are way over their head or circumstances force them to abandon the project, so you might check Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist for people who are selling what they couldn't finish. There may also be buses for sale in the Classified section on this site that might fit the bill. And most of these folks shouldn't be too bothered by a request for fluid samples, I would think. I don't think it takes much of a sample for testing.

By the way, something I forgot to add -- be aware that most buses for sale will probably need some attention -- usually brakes and/or tires. Batteries might be dead. Not cheap, and crucial to safety. If replacing a steer tire (front axle), DO NOT accept retreads on these. Blowing a retread on the front axle is very dangerous -- it is illegal per DOT regulation to have retreaded steer tires on a bus in their originally intended usage. Converting it to an RV does not remove that danger.

If you think good tires and batteries are expensive, wait until you have to tow it or call a road service mechanic because you tried to save a few bucks. ;)
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Old 04-24-2020, 02:47 PM   #5
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I’ll bake you a cake! ��

I’ll have lots of questions headed your way, you can count on it!
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Old 04-24-2020, 02:49 PM   #6
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I’ll bake you a cake! ��
It's a date.

By the way, should you buy a bus with a manual, some commercial manual transmissions last longer with double-clutching (which seems to be a lost art these days). Reason being that they do not have synchronizers like a typical conventional manual.

It's easier than it sounds. Think of each position in the shift pattern's forward gears as a room, and the clutch as a door that must be opened and closed each time the lever is moved... To clarify...

Double-clutching is essentially a momentary bump of light pressure (enough to 'slip' the clutch, but NOT fully depressed) on the clutch pedal to leave the current gear position to neutral, and another 'bump' of the clutch pedal from neutral into the next desired gear position. A slight pause as you go across neutral to let the revs drop slightly will help in smoothing the shift as well.

And most that require this method will need to be revved up 300-400 rpm on downshifts. A light tap of the accelerator is all that's needed, in the absence of a tachometer (not all have them). Regardless of the presence of a tachometer, it's something you have to get a feel for, and once you do, it will become second nature.

At the risk of sounding like an idiot import 'tuner' whose tuning has more to do with bling than knowledge, conventional 'granny-shifting' of a manual, as it is sometimes called, can cause damage with some commercial transmissions.

You'll find that with some (most older ones anyway), low gear is essentially useless for 99% of motion, making a 5-speed essentially a 4-speed, or a 6-speed a 5-speed.
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Old 04-25-2020, 10:34 AM   #7
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I’ll be down for driving lessons, although I’ll have wrecked it driving east, I suppose. I figure the search is going to take awhile.
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Old 04-25-2020, 11:20 AM   #8
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Avoid buses with hydraulic brakes. Generally speaking buses with air brakes have more braking surface. Buses with air brakes also have emergency/parking brakes that actually will stop the bus and keep it from moving if the brakes are adjusted properly. Air brakes also do not go bad just from sitting. Because brake fluid attracts water, when vehicles with hydraulic brakes sit for any extending period of time when it is time to go the brakes will probably need to be rebuilt as all of the brake cylinders will be full of rust and cause the brake fluid to leak out.


Thomas buses offered Mercedes-Benz engines for several years. They weren't bad engines but they can be money pits. Finding a competent mechanic to work on a M-B engine will be expensive and the parts are not cheap.


Cat engines are not bad engines but the color they are painted is called Caterpillar gold for a reason. Cat engines have a lot of dealer only features that make them more expensive to repair and maintain.


Always go with the biggest engine you can find with highway gearing already. Retrofitting or upgrading the power package and gearing can cost 2x-5x more than what you paid for the bus to start with.


Avoid the IHC/IC 9.0L, VT365, and any MaxxForce engine. the IHC/IC DT360, DT466, DT530, and T444 are all workhorse engines that will go many miles with very little care and they are relatively inexpensive to repair.


Avoid the Cummins 555 or any of the older C-170/180/190 engines as they weren't all that great when they were new and that was a long time ago. The 6BT/ISB is probably the most common engine and it is okay for a route bus but it gets a little short of breath at highway speeds or climbing the big hills. It was usually paired with the Allison AT-540 which isn't ideal. The 6CT/ISC is the next size up and it will have almost half again as much torque at the same HP rating as the 6BT/ISC. At highway speeds the bigger engine will actually get better fuel mileage. And because it is a bigger engine it was never paired with the AT-540. There were some buses in the past that got the L10 and newer buses are getting the ISL. That is a really big engine and will get a bus to almost fly down the road.


You also want to keep away from anything 2007 and newer as they will be fully smogged. Most schools that still have pre-2000 buses in their fleet are tending to keep them as spares as the newer buses that are fully electronic and smogged tend to be garage queens.



You will also almost never find a bus with factory luggage compartments on a smaller bus.



Regardless of what bus you choose do NOT get one with any rust. You can travel to a part of the country that doesn't use salt on the roads in the winter and purchase a bus and drive it back and forth across the country and still spend less than what it will take to make a rusty bus not so rusty.



I know you said you wanted a smaller bus but this particular bus is not only not yellow but because it was never yellow it most probably has a big HP engine and highway gearing. And because of where it has seen service it won't have any rust to speak of.

https://www.goharlows.com/default.as...OwnedInventory
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Old 04-27-2020, 03:40 PM   #9
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Avoid buses with hydraulic brakes. Generally speaking buses with air brakes have more braking surface. Buses with air brakes also have emergency/parking brakes that actually will stop the bus and keep it from moving if the brakes are adjusted properly. Air brakes also do not go bad just from sitting. Because brake fluid attracts water, when vehicles with hydraulic brakes sit for any extending period of time when it is time to go the brakes will probably need to be rebuilt as all of the brake cylinders will be full of rust and cause the brake fluid to leak out.


Thomas buses offered Mercedes-Benz engines for several years. They weren't bad engines but they can be money pits. Finding a competent mechanic to work on a M-B engine will be expensive and the parts are not cheap.


Cat engines are not bad engines but the color they are painted is called Caterpillar gold for a reason. Cat engines have a lot of dealer only features that make them more expensive to repair and maintain.


Always go with the biggest engine you can find with highway gearing already. Retrofitting or upgrading the power package and gearing can cost 2x-5x more than what you paid for the bus to start with.


Avoid the IHC/IC 9.0L, VT365, and any MaxxForce engine. the IHC/IC DT360, DT466, DT530, and T444 are all workhorse engines that will go many miles with very little care and they are relatively inexpensive to repair.


Avoid the Cummins 555 or any of the older C-170/180/190 engines as they weren't all that great when they were new and that was a long time ago. The 6BT/ISB is probably the most common engine and it is okay for a route bus but it gets a little short of breath at highway speeds or climbing the big hills. It was usually paired with the Allison AT-540 which isn't ideal. The 6CT/ISC is the next size up and it will have almost half again as much torque at the same HP rating as the 6BT/ISC. At highway speeds the bigger engine will actually get better fuel mileage. And because it is a bigger engine it was never paired with the AT-540. There were some buses in the past that got the L10 and newer buses are getting the ISL. That is a really big engine and will get a bus to almost fly down the road.


You also want to keep away from anything 2007 and newer as they will be fully smogged. Most schools that still have pre-2000 buses in their fleet are tending to keep them as spares as the newer buses that are fully electronic and smogged tend to be garage queens.



You will also almost never find a bus with factory luggage compartments on a smaller bus.



Regardless of what bus you choose do NOT get one with any rust. You can travel to a part of the country that doesn't use salt on the roads in the winter and purchase a bus and drive it back and forth across the country and still spend less than what it will take to make a rusty bus not so rusty.



I know you said you wanted a smaller bus but this particular bus is not only not yellow but because it was never yellow it most probably has a big HP engine and highway gearing. And because of where it has seen service it won't have any rust to speak of.

https://www.goharlows.com/default.as...OwnedInventory
Very helpful! I have a Yes/No chart going for engines and transmissions. I took a look at the AmTran, just the right size, you’re right.

Is there a thread for engine-illiterate folks that explains engine/gearing? I’m off to Wikipedia for starters ��
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Old 04-27-2020, 03:41 PM   #10
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Cowlitzcoach, looks like I’m baking you a cake too!
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Old 04-27-2020, 07:24 PM   #11
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Cowlitzcoach, looks like Iím baking you a cake too!
I don't know about anyone else, but I think I'd be buying stock in Duncan-Hines and Betty Crocker about now... This could get quite expensive, you know.

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Is there a thread for engine-illiterate folks that explains engine/gearing? Iím off to Wikipedia for starters ��
Wikipedia isn't necessarily guaranteed to be accurate, as it is editable by users, and some claim to know more than they do.

What I will explain about gearing:

What you'll be interested in is the ratio, which could be 4.56 : 1, 5.29 : 1 (common in route buses). This is effectively the number of driveshaft revolutions to the number of drive wheel revolutions. What you need to understand that the higher this number, the lower the axle gearing. The lower the gearing, the lower the max speed, but this is necessary for larger, heavier vehicles to accelerate with less strain, particularly for low-horsepower engines.

Diesels are bigger on torque than a comparable gasoline unit, which helps their efficiency. Torque is the force that does the actual movement, horsepower is simply a rating of how fast that movement occurs. Larger the engine, the more torque and horsepower it makes. Turbocharging helps this drastically as well. It puts more strain on the engine, but is not much of a worry with diesels. With school buses, the weak link will most always be the transmission.

For example, an International AmTran RE with a Cummins 8.3 is more likely to have gearing in the 4.11-4.56 range, as the bigger engine makes more torque to fight more 'relaxed' (higher) gearing. And that more relaxed gearing would make it more suitable for highway cruising.

However, that same bus with the Cummins and relaxed gearing would suffer greatly on hills because higher gearing bogs the engine down in such a situation.

For another example, an International 3800-chassis with the DT466 and gearing in the 4.56-5.29 range would be slow on the interstate, but not so bad on hills because the axle gearing is not bogging the engine down as much.

If hills and interstate cruising will be a factor, I would highly recommend you look for a bus with a manual, or (as manuals are getting harder to find) the 2000 / MD3060 transmissions. As well as someone who can unlock the extra gear on those transmissions. I'm not sure the 2000 had this feature, I'm sure the MD3060 does.

There really is no set formula to how a particular bus might be spec'd, other than whether the district ordered it with specific options or not. Otherwise, it's an assembly line, when new, buses are shipped to the buyer nearly as soon as they are built.

But in a nutshell, smaller engines will generally get lower gearing, larger ones are more likely to get more relaxed 'highway' gearing, especially if equipped with the better transmissions available (NOT a guarantee, however).
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Old 04-28-2020, 06:42 AM   #12
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I’m going to need a nice little oven in my bus for cake baking!

After the fourth read, it makes sense, thank you. I should add that I want a wheelchair lift. For a bunch of reasons, I have a lot of friends who use chairs, and I want the bus (like my home) to be accessible. There is also a surging interest in independent travel in the disability community, and that’s who I would like to sell to when the time comes. So I’m not sure about a manual, but I have to look into hand controls.
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Old 04-28-2020, 11:19 AM   #13
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In regards to final rear gearing, the smaller the ratio the faster you can go at the same engine speed. The larger the ratio the more the engine HP/Torque is multiplied for acceleration and gradability. For example, a bus with rear gearing of 4.10:1 would be able to go well in excess of 70 MPH at 2,500 RPM. The same bus with rear gearing of 4.79:1 would have a top speed of around 65 MPH at 2,500 RPM. Newer buses with overdrive gearing in the transmissions will use rear gearing of 5.34:1 in order to get better gradability and OD gears to get a decent highway speed. In direct with 5.34:1 rear gearing the top speed would be about 50 MPH at 2,500 RPM and about 65 MPH in OD at 2,500 RPM.



Most route buses because they spend 95+% of their service life at speeds under 35 MPH are not geared to go much faster than about 60 MPH. Since many states have speed limits for school buses no faster than 60 MPH this isn't a problem when they are in service. Back in the day a LOT of school buses with gas engines had a top speed of 47 MPH. While that was slow for out on the highway, when those buses got to a hill they didn't slow down appreciably. The same bus with the same engine and transmission geared to a top speed of 55 MPH would climb hills one gear lower than the 47 MPH bus.


Which is why the buses that were spe'c'ed to be trip buses tend to have bigger HP engines with higher speed rear gears. The higher HP allows the bus to climb hills without dropping gears and accelerate with reasonable speed. Highway motorcoaches with 4-speed transmissions generally accelerate really poorly because the gearing is to allow them to cruise at 80 MPH. Getting to that speed takes a while but they have the HP to go that fast. It does no good to have fast highway gearing if you don't have enough HP to go that fast. Which is why it is so important to find the bus with the HP/Torque and gearing you want rather than trying to retrofit parts and pieces to go the speeds you want to go.


It takes a LOT of HP and torque to get a bus up to speed. It also take a LOT of HP and torque to maintain highway speeds. I have a bus that will go 70 MPH if you draft behind semi-trucks. As soon as you get out of the draft the best the bus can do is 65 MPH with your foot to the floor. Another I bus I had would cruise all day effortlessly at 75+ MPH on the interstate. The one bus had a 190 HP engine and was a school bus. The other bus was a highway coach with 450 HP with almost triple the amount of torque.


The other problem of trying to get more HP and torque out of the engine in your bus is heat. The T444E and ISB that are found in a lot of buses are basically the same engine as the Powerstroke found in Ford pickups and the Cummins found in Dodge/Ram trucks. Basically the same power upgrades you can find in the aftermarket can be applied to bus engines except you will run out of cooling capacity very quickly. So unless you upgrade the radiator and intercooler in addition to installing power upgrades you won't be able to take advantage of those power upgrades unless the ambient temperature is below 45*.


I hope this helps.
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Old 05-08-2020, 11:16 AM   #14
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Cowlitzcoach, this helps very much, thank you!

Barbara
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