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Old 09-28-2020, 08:20 PM   #1
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Newbie rdy to buy & welcoming all advice! (INDY)

HI GUYS

Been working towards this since March & we've finally come into the money we need to buy! We're looking to buy in the 30ft range & we're open to the idea of traveling to buy.. We're wanting to hear some opinions on mountain buses vs highway buses.. we plan on spending time in the mountains so mountain made makes sense, curious how much more in gas we would be spending ect. & if its really worth it.. Are there certain engines that are more common/easier to work on that we should be looking for?

I'm going to start digging into the forums and do my own research on here as well but any help/advice/or recommendations of where to buy, what to look for/be aware of, and how much we should expect to spend would be much appreciated.

Anyway just wanted to make a post to introduce myself and say hello to the community! Happy to finally be here

-Catty
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Old 09-28-2020, 09:26 PM   #2
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Your best mountain buses will be found in Colorado. They tend to have big engines like the Cummins 8.3, beefy transmissions like the MD3060 or the older MT643, and electric retarders which save wear and tear on the brakes and transmission when going downhill. They're generally not rusty.

30' buses aren't exactly rare, but you would have an easier time finding a bus that ticks all the other marks (good drivetrain and no rust, primarily) if you go for more of a full-sized bus from 35' to 40'. The Holy Grail of skoolies is probably a Blue Bird RE (rear engine) circa 2000-2003 with an 8.3 and MD3060 (with massive underbody storage if you're lucky), but these are 40' long.
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Old 09-28-2020, 09:35 PM   #3
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Avoid 07+ models with DPF / DEF. MaxxFarce (MaxxForce) Navistar engines are to be avoided as well. VT365 is the basis for the PowerJoke 6.0, which are also to be avoided. AT545 transmissions are an Achilles heel as well.
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Old 09-28-2020, 09:44 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by musigenesis View Post
Your best mountain buses will be found in Colorado. They tend to have big engines like the Cummins 8.3, beefy transmissions like the MD3060 or the older MT643, and electric retarders which save wear and tear on the brakes and transmission when going downhill. They're generally not rusty.

30' buses aren't exactly rare, but you would have an easier time finding a bus that ticks all the other marks (good drivetrain and no rust, primarily) if you go for more of a full-sized bus from 35' to 40'. The Holy Grail of skoolies is probably a Blue Bird RE (rear engine) circa 2000-2003 with an 8.3 and MD3060 (with massive underbody storage if you're lucky), but these are 40' long.
VERY GRATEFUL for this information, this gives me a good idea of what to start keeping an eye out for. I'll start looking into these, thank you for the input!!
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Old 09-28-2020, 09:46 PM   #5
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cheesewagon, ive come across some of your other responses on here to avoid the newer models which i did not know until tonight, thank you much!!!
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Old 09-28-2020, 09:54 PM   #6
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Yay! I have a holy grail of a bus except without the underside storage, no cruise, no retarder, no radio...Wait? I got screwed! Love the driveline which is what I shopped for. Good luck Catty, you will find your bus! I have a 2003 BB rear engine 8.3 with the 3060.
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Old 09-28-2020, 10:40 PM   #7
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I might also add that you might want to get familiar with the inspection process outlined in this thread I have created. There's a lot of little things it pays to know, for your safety, but also can help keep you from buying a basket case.
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Old 09-28-2020, 11:10 PM   #8
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Yay! I have a holy grail of a bus except without the underside storage, no cruise, no retarder, no radio...Wait? I got screwed! Love the driveline which is what I shopped for. Good luck Catty, you will find your bus! I have a 2003 BB rear engine 8.3 with the 3060.
CONGRATS on having the holy grail of buses!! ty for the tip about AAABus, do you mind sharing how much you paid? im curious what to expect
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Old 09-29-2020, 12:15 AM   #9
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I paid $3500 for mine directly from a school district in Washington, It seems most people are paying more than I did but some people would insist that what I paid was too much. Mine is a Thomas - I prefer Thomas to Bluebird, but Thomas can be a little harder to do a roof raise on. And if you’re too picky about what you want you could be looking for a long time. Stick with the few most important features you want like the drivetrain or ceiling height unless you’re in no rush to buy.

Auction sites seem to go a fair bit more than what I paid. Keep your eyes peeled and call around to different places with rust free buses and you might get lucky.
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Old 09-29-2020, 09:20 AM   #10
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Catty, I paid $8800. Being bought from a dealer I expected to pay more. I am ok with it. They fixed several issues that would not have been addressed if I bought it at auction. One of the big issues, is a comm error with the accelerator pedal, weeping transmission yoke seal, several gauges working intermittently, oil change, a couple of gas lifting struts, diesel filters, air filter, removed all the seats, fixed some little things. For me, it was so worth the cost. I am sure it doesn't cost him much to have his shop labor fix things, but I know it would have been 4k out of my wallet had I gone on my own. That said, I couldn't find the 8.3 anywhere so I felt i had not much choice. The dealer was honest and showed me a bunch of buses with him telling me a couple I was interested in despite being Cat C7's having blow-by.
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Old 09-29-2020, 09:48 AM   #11
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Also prices on these buses are going up as people realize how much better suited to skoolie usage they are.

Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona will all have rust free pushers with the big motors and the fun stuff like retarders and auto chains. Pass through understorage and factory AC can also be found and are both huge bonuses.

I'm just trying to find out where Wyoming and New Mexico buses end up. I rarely see any from those states on the public auction sites so I'm wondering if the dealers in those states get them on trade and sell them directly to exporters?
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Old 09-29-2020, 09:56 AM   #12
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Also prices on these buses are going up as people realize how much better suited to skoolie usage they are.

Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona will all have rust free pushers with the big motors and the fun stuff like retarders and auto chains. Pass through understorage and factory AC can also be found and are both huge bonuses.

I'm just trying to find out where Wyoming and New Mexico buses end up. I rarely see any from those states on the public auction sites so I'm wondering if the dealers in those states get them on trade and sell them directly to exporters?
I dunno about Utah buses. I was just checking out an auction on publicsurplus.com of a bunch of grails from a school system in Utah, and they were all pretty severely rusted. No pics at all of the undersides, but the step wells and the floors next to the driver seats were all severely rusted, and the rear hatches all had replacement hinges. I can't imagine that the hidden parts of these buses were in any better shape.
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Old 09-29-2020, 11:16 AM   #13
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I dunno about Utah buses. I was just checking out an auction on publicsurplus.com of a bunch of grails from a school system in Utah, and they were all pretty severely rusted. No pics at all of the undersides, but the step wells and the floors next to the driver seats were all severely rusted, and the rear hatches all had replacement hinges. I can't imagine that the hidden parts of these buses were in any better shape.
Probably one of those operations that were in the habit of hosing out their bus floors on a regular basis. That is hell on floors and rusts them out almost as badly as road salt does.
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Old 09-29-2020, 05:12 PM   #14
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I paid $3500 for mine directly from a school district in Washington, It seems most people are paying more than I did but some people would insist that what I paid was too much. Mine is a Thomas - I prefer Thomas to Bluebird, but Thomas can be a little harder to do a roof raise on. And if youíre too picky about what you want you could be looking for a long time. Stick with the few most important features you want like the drivetrain or ceiling height unless youíre in no rush to buy.

Auction sites seem to go a fair bit more than what I paid. Keep your eyes peeled and call around to different places with rust free buses and you might get lucky.
Weíre fairly short people and wonít be needing to do a roof raise, so no worries in that department. Can I ask why you prefer Thomas to bluebird ?
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Old 09-29-2020, 05:19 PM   #15
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Catty, I paid $8800. Being bought from a dealer I expected to pay more. I am ok with it. They fixed several issues that would not have been addressed if I bought it at auction. One of the big issues, is a comm error with the accelerator pedal, weeping transmission yoke seal, several gauges working intermittently, oil change, a couple of gas lifting struts, diesel filters, air filter, removed all the seats, fixed some little things. For me, it was so worth the cost. I am sure it doesn't cost him much to have his shop labor fix things, but I know it would have been 4k out of my wallet had I gone on my own. That said, I couldn't find the 8.3 anywhere so I felt i had not much choice. The dealer was honest and showed me a bunch of buses with him telling me a couple I was interested in despite being Cat C7's having blow-by.
Thank you I reached out & they said Iíd be looking at 7-9k through them so sounds about right, obviously Iíd love to get lucky & find one through a school district or auction, but wouldnít everyone? And living in Indiana & no where near the states that have the pushers Iím looking for make that a bit more difficult. Maybe the dealership is the way to go. Thank you that is helpful.
So Iím gathering there typically more problems with the Cat engines then
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Old 09-29-2020, 06:13 PM   #16
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Thank you I reached out & they said Iíd be looking at 7-9k through them so sounds about right, obviously Iíd love to get lucky & find one through a school district or auction, but wouldnít everyone? And living in Indiana & no where near the states that have the pushers Iím looking for make that a bit more difficult. Maybe the dealership is the way to go. Thank you that is helpful.
So Iím gathering there typically more problems with the Cat engines then
Keep in mind, that these buses are getting up there in age and won't necessarily be pretty if you find one at AAA. That said, Tony does buy them from local auctions and needs to go through them which may happen after you buy a bus (if you get one from him). If that is the case, it may take a few days to a week or more for whatever repairs you negotiate for them to do so plan on staying a bit just in case. Also, don't expect shiny glossy paint on most AZ buses as the sun eats that away early on! With keeping realistic expectations and what you will end up doing to your bus, cosmetics really should not be a deterrent. (most of us take out nearly everything anyway!)
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Old 09-29-2020, 09:21 PM   #17
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Weíre fairly short people and wonít be needing to do a roof raise, so no worries in that department. Can I ask why you prefer Thomas to bluebird ?
I donít hate them, I might buy a Bluebird if I ever get another bus but itís mainly that Bluebird, the head company is difficult to deal with. They do this on purpose and wonít let you email them or call them, after 1 call they block you. I guess they donít want to be pestered by people like us. I donít know. Thomas on the other hand has been very helpful when Iíve contacted them. I contacted them and Bluebird about unlocking 6th gear on buses with md3060 transmissions. After Bluebird was so difficult to deal with I said to myself, fine then if you donít want to help me I will buy a Thomas bus. Lol. The local Thomas dealers Iíve dealt with have also been friendly and helpful. I canít speak for bluebirdís local dealers but Iím sure theyíre fine.

Another thing is I like the look of the 2001/2002 and newer model rear engine Thomas HDX buses better (even though mine has an older look).

I donít know if there is any reliability differences between the two but I have my 6th gear unlocked and am happy about it. Probably wouldnít have happened if I got a bluebird (though there are ways to do it without Bluebirdís help). I also just like that I can contact Thomas if I ever need to in the future, I think theyíll help me out.
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Old 09-30-2020, 10:04 PM   #18
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Been lurking for a while. Established an account and lurked for a while more. Not yet a bus owner, but in the process though not in any rush.

Keep reading to avoid '07+ diesels. Does this apply to relatively new diesels (e.g. 2016+) also. Were engines improved over that 9 year (or so) span that would make looking at a "newer" bus worthwhile?

I do some work (non bus related) for some local school districts, so there is an opportunity to get a newer bus at a pretty decent price.

I should add that I am pretty inexperienced on diesel engines. LOL

Anyway, this forum has been a great resource and given me a lot to think about and a lot to learn. Appreciate all the knowledge available. Kudos to you all.
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Old 10-01-2020, 06:15 AM   #19
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Been lurking for a while. Established an account and lurked for a while more. Not yet a bus owner, but in the process though not in any rush.

Keep reading to avoid '07+ diesels. Does this apply to relatively new diesels (e.g. 2016+) also. Were engines improved over that 9 year (or so) span that would make looking at a "newer" bus worthwhile?

I do some work (non bus related) for some local school districts, so there is an opportunity to get a newer bus at a pretty decent price.

I should add that I am pretty inexperienced on diesel engines. LOL

Anyway, this forum has been a great resource and given me a lot to think about and a lot to learn. Appreciate all the knowledge available. Kudos to you all.
The latest round of EPA regulations kicked in for 2015 and these emissions standards are much higher than they used to be (my DT466E was built in 2002 and emits about 500X as much NOx as a new engine). I don't think it's very well known how reliable/expensive these new engines will be in the long term. Two manufacturers (Navistar aka International and Cat) basically threw in the towel for this round and no longer manufacture the engines at all. School buses come with Cummins engines now and they're pretty much the only player.

I'd be terrified of owning a bus that new unless the price was in the ballpark of the older buses - and I'd have trouble understanding why a nearly-new bus was selling so cheap.
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Old 10-01-2020, 02:08 PM   #20
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The latest round of EPA regulations kicked in for 2015 and these emissions standards are much higher than they used to be (my DT466E was built in 2002 and emits about 500X as much NOx as a new engine). I don't think it's very well known how reliable/expensive these new engines will be in the long term. Two manufacturers (Navistar aka International and Cat) basically threw in the towel for this round and no longer manufacture the engines at all. School buses come with Cummins engines now and they're pretty much the only player.

I'd be terrified of owning a bus that new unless the price was in the ballpark of the older buses - and I'd have trouble understanding why a nearly-new bus was selling so cheap.
Great info. Thanks so much!!!

PS Price would be reasonable as the school district wants to keep the buses in their fleet at <5 years old and I would possibly be able to get a "friends and family" discount.
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