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Old 12-27-2020, 09:56 PM   #1
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Buyer's Guide - Tips for newbies and veterans

This is the primer I send many newbies here, and it has been quite popular, so I thought I'd make it into its own thread -- you may also want to read my Safety Inspection Checklist thread as well. Both are a long read, but most here agree it is well worth the time.

Things to consider before you go shopping for a bus.

Your budget.

How much vehicle you can handle driving.

How and where you plan to use it.

How often you plan to to use it.

What you plan to do in your conversion.

Not all buses are created equal. I have included info on larger ones as well, just in case you decide a larger one is in order. You have several different types – mini buses based on full-size cargo van chassis, flat-nosed (similar to a transit bus – these come in front and rear-engine versions – a consideration in and of itself), and the old familiar standby – dognose (conventional) buses, which are based on Class 7 truck chassis, similar to their flat-nosed / transit brethren.

Some are air brake, some are hydraulic, some have manual transmissions, others automatics, some are gasoline-powered, others are diesel. There are even some LPG / CNG / hybrid units out there. All have their nuances, and there are things you should know before choosing a bus, and proceeding with conversion.

Space, for instance, is a huge consideration with the smaller van-based buses, and for that reason, depending on your intentions, you may find after consideration of this that a larger short bus may be more suited to your needs. For instance, if traveling cross-country or full-timing, you may find a smaller bus may seem a bit more cramped than you thought. Smaller minibuses ARE available in longer lengths -- when you can find them. They range anywhere from 12-22 passenger.

If your intended travels include mountains, I do wonder whether these would have enough power to climb mountains reliably in such a scenario. Overheating is always a possibility. For frequent hilly / mountain terrain, I would highly recommend a manual (most minibuses do not have these) or an Allison automatic -- the 1000-series was available for GM's Duramax and some larger gas engines. These will have a badge on the driver's door. Any automatic with a lot of mountain use will need adequate cooling, especially a lighter-duty unit, so be prepared to upgrade the radiator and transmission coolers, even on larger buses with heavier-duty mechanicals.

Something you should know if traveling cross-country -- Parking can be an issue across the country, regardless of the vehicle's size. Be aware of your height when driving through towns as well, most skoolies stand between 9 and 11 feet tall. One low bridge or a drive-thru can ruin your adventure in a hurry. Many localities restrict vehicles of certain sizes, weights heights, and lengths.

Be aware of this parking for the night or passing through towns looking for food or other necessities. Wal-Marts are becoming a bit less welcoming to RVs and skoolies because of a few bad apples that leave trash and stay for weeks at a time.

You also have neighborhood busybodies that want to call on any such vehicle near their home, god forbid their precious property values drop. Local ordinances may also forbid overnight parking or impose weight restrictions on certain roads.

To increase your enjoyment of your adventure, I would get very familiar with a book called "The Next Exit". Chock full of exit ramps (I recommend the entrance side for safety) that are suitable for parking. Rest areas are also good. Lots of little hole-in-the-wall places you can find, even with a larger bus (just keep your size in mind for ingress / egress).

Having a few years driving 18-wheelers, I would advise you to avoid truck stops if possible. But if parking in a truck stop is absolutely necessary, avoid taking a space for a semi if at all possible. Some aren't tolerant of smaller vehicles taking their parking spaces. Most truck stops have RV parking, and a mini bus can fit in most spaces that a cargo van could, length depending.

If you must use a space meant for a semi, remember, some spaces are meant for pulling through or backing in, others are only accessible by backing.

If you must use a space meant for a semi, be sure to park so it is obvious the space is occupied. If it's a pull-through arrangement, put the rear of your skoolie at the rear of the space. If it's a space meant for backing in, put your skoolie's nose even with that of the trucks in that row. I've seen more than one RV badly damaged or totaled by a semi trailer in the dark because it was impossible to see. Also, leave clearance / marker lights on at night if feasible.

Just a little courtesy to avoid a bad situation. I know I was a bit more understanding of such folks as long as I wasn't nearly hitting them because I didn't know they were there. But I would advise not to do it unless absolutely necessary. And try not to stay in such spaces longer than necessary.

All of this should be taken into consideration – and buying anything larger than a van-based minibus, I highly recommend a good basic CDL course (practice tests can be found on truckersreport.com, and a Commercial Driver's Manual can be obtained at your local vehicle licensing agency).

Taking an actual course may or may not be required, as conversions are required to be titled as a motorhome, which exempts them from NEEDING a CDL, but it is still good knowledge to have. Just know that most auction-fresh buses will technically require a CDL to drive home. These things don't stop or turn well – ESPECIALLY the larger ones. Even smaller ones usually require a Class C with P/S endorsements as they were originally built and purposed. You will more than likely have to change some, if not all of your driving habits – so be aware of this.

IF you find a Flex-Fuel gas model, keep in mind that they CAN run on E85... But have been known to get stuck in one mode or another when switching fuel mixtures, which usually mean a trip to the dealer. If they are NOT Flex-Fuel...do not run anything above E15 in '07+ models, and do not run anything above E10 in anything '06 and older. These engines are not designed for higher concentrations of ethanol and it WILL damage them.

A note about gasoline GM-based minibuses -- I'm sure most, if not all of these will have the 6.0L / 8.1L, but some smaller ones may have the 5.3, which has the Displacement-On-Demand setup. Be aware that this setup is known to malfunction and requires replacing valvetrain components. It's nice to have when it's right, but a real PITA when it's not. Aftermarket kits exist that completely eliminate this flunky system. Some older ones may have the 5.7L gas or 6.2L /6.5L diesel V8s, though they are not as common as they used to be. Newer ones are also known to randomly reset their recorded engine hours, a consideration when evaluating the health of the mechanicals.

Steer clear of hybrids and CNG and LPG-powered models, for lots of reasons. Hybrids are very specialized and not easily serviceable (if at all) by anywhere but a franchised manufacturer's dealer (where labor rates often exceed $120 per hour).

LPG is usually taxed for vehicular use, CNG is not readily available just anywhere, and the tanks must be certified and checked meticulously every so often. They are extremely costly to replace, and make the vehicle a veritable bomb -- Power and fuel range are typically terrible to boot. Unless you know someone who can easily convert the vehicle to diesel or gas, whichever applies, I would pass on such models. The only benefit is that the fuel burns clean, not enough to outweigh the obvious caveats.

For diesels, basic emissions began with Exhaust Gas Recirculation systems, and they were headache enough. Some lighter-duty models (such as the Detroit 6.2 / 6.5L) began using this as early as the 90s. With larger diesels, varying models began to get this sort of thing between '02-'07, and it is pretty much confined to lighter-duty buses such as those on the cutaway Ford /GM van chassis until around '07-'08.

Diesel Particulate Filters (diesel version of a catalytic converter) showed up around 2007 / 2008, and made things even more interesting... Don't take my word for it -- Google "Diesel Particulate Filter Fires" and click "Images" -- or better yet, ask someone else with commercial driving experience how many trucks they've seen or heard of that a DPF malfunction caused a raging fire.

Diesel Exhaust Fluid arrived around 2008 for some models, became mandatory in 2010, and that system is the devil's spawn, especially as it is used in conjunction with the previous two. These are the primary reasons I wouldn't buy a diesel newer than about an '02-'04. Albeit, the MaxxForce engines in the newer generation of larger buses are the main problem children... I would avoid ANY bus with a MaxxForce, under ANY circumstances. The others haven't been as bad... apart from... *drum roll please*.... One other thing, do not confuse the DT466/E with the MaxxForce 7.6L. DT466/Es are painted blue and are golden. The MaxxForce engines are generally painted satin black. Avoid them.

The '03+ 6.0 PowerStroke diesel -- avoid these like the plague, you do NOT want one of these either. The Navistar VT365 is the same engine, I'd avoid those too. I've heard that the Caterpillar 3126 and C-7 have been known to have cooling and head gasket issues, though I'm not sure how common those issues are.

One caveat to consider with a larger bus, think long and hard about whether you want a $1300 tow bill or a $3000 repair bill – heavy wreckers are typically $100 hookup and $10 / mile and most truck repair shops charge between $80-$125 an hour, some more.

Choose wisely, and maintenance is key -- an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One nice thing about a skoolie -- as long as it's converted well and the conversion does not hinder serviceability -- truck repair shops are usually much more welcoming of skoolies than conventional RVs, as they usually have identical mechanicals to typical Class 6/7 trucks.

That being said -- Anyone will tell you finding the right bus takes a bit of searching and time -- don't settle on the first shiny one that runs good. I'll give you a run-down of what I've observed in my time here (Round two - previous account was deleted at well over 3000 posts) and my own real-world observations and experiences (mostly with trailer trucks, but I myself owned a Ford chassis Blue Bird back in the day).

Transmissions: 4L60(E), 4L80E / 4L85E / 6L85 / 6L90 / 8L90 for GM, Fords (depending on year model) used AOD, AOD-E, 4R70W, 4R75, and newer ones are using the 5R110W. None are really that bad, but none are bulletproof, either. Transmission problems can be notably more expensive with Fords, because certain components are very vehicle specific -- the transmission being one such part -- thus sourcing a good used one can be difficult.

A note about smaller buses -- Depending on their age -- GM's diesels will either be 6.2 / 6.5L Detroit diesels or 6.6L Duramax, each having their own nuances. Earlier 6.2s had head gasket and block issues, the 6.5L is turbocharged, the 6.2L is not. The 6.6L is known for fuel problems, particularly the injectors on the LB7s. Some GM cutaway chassis have also been known to have electrical issues.

Ford diesels are okay up to '02 -- the last year for the 7.3L. A few early '03s may have been 7.3s, verify the displacement! The 6.0L is a bus-sized headache you do not want - problems galore, as stated previously. Unfortunately, a few bigger buses since '03 have gotten the 6.0 diesel too.

And be prepared to repair / replace brake linings and/or tires -- many buses being retired are on the verge of needing service in this area, oft-overlooked by newbies. Steer tires for larger buses will likely run about $200-250 each, drive tires the same or more. They are not cheap, even for smaller buses. Brakes on most trucks are about $2000 per axle, depending on the system and shop. Smaller buses have more expensive brake service as well, as the parts are heavier-duty than a standard van. Sometimes you get lucky and the bus had these serviced / replaced not long before it was retired.

Lots of good folks here with a lot of helpful advice, some are even willing to help find the right bus. Most of us long-timers here know good sources for finding good buses. GovDeals and PublicSurplus can be a source -- ABOVE ALL -- NEVER BUY SIGHT UNSEEN, INSPECT IN PERSON IF POSSIBLE, OR AT LEAST HAVE SOMEONE EXPERIENCED AND LOCAL TO THE VEHICLE TO INSPECT IT FOR YOU.

Some members here might not mind checking one out for you if it is somewhat local to them -- an experienced truck or bus mechanic is best, however. A hundred bucks to a reputable diesel mechanic could save you the hassle of paying $1800 for a bus that turns into a hefty tow and repair bill -- if you don't wind up scrapping it -- which has happened before. Just know that ANY of them can break down on the way home. Most won't -- but it's not unheard of.

Prime example -- I bought a retired police car once on PublicSurplus from Roanoke County, VA without inspecting it on their listing of "Runs Good - Turned In For Newer Vehicle" and it turned out most of the #3 rod bearing was laying in the oil pan. It got home, but it definitely needed an engine badly. Don't let that scare you off, just learn from my mistake of buying sight unseen.

I wouldn't buy buses from the northern part of the country unless you're willing to contend with a lot of rust -- a far more serious problem than you might think. Ask around the site about that one. Lots of these things hide rust in places you won't notice it until you've already bought it. Some states use sand rather than salt, so buses from those states may be worth a look.

If perusing dealers, DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT FLORIDA CHURCH BUS. They burned a former member here BADLY, a story I am very familiar with, as they told other potential buyers a great many untruths about the transaction and their response to the problems that ensued. Be sure to ask questions here about ANY 'dealer' you're thinking of buying from. 99% of the buses you find will carry a 'tail light' warranty, meaning the warranty expires when they lose sight of your tail lights as you're driving away.

Most auctions and dealers will not / cannot allow you to drive your new purchase home without removing seats / stop sign arm, 'SCHOOL BUS" and municipality lettering if not already done. Some states even require that it be repainted something other than the school bus yellow. Activity buses and prison buses will be exempt from this, as they are not so equipped.

Another potential snag is that most can not allow it to be driven off their lot without a CDL, either. I am one of a few members here who holds a CDL, albeit I have a Class A with only air brake endorsements -- small van-based buses require a Class C minimum, larger ones a Class B with P endorsement for transport until it is registered and titled as a motorhome, if not already done.

There are a few of us here who hold a CDL, I am one that may be willing to help with moving your new purchase. Be aware, I have a Class A, not a Class B, and no endorsements, but others here have noted that IF they were stopped, the officer was usually understanding of the situation. My having a Class A CDL would likely greatly increase the chances of that, as long as I had proof I was relocating it for a new owner. (Class A is for larger, heavier vehicles that require more skill to maneuver, but the P/S endorsements generally don't apply to it)

For their bigger brothers:

Engines: Caterpillar 3208 / 3216, 3116, C7, Navistar DT466, DT360, T444 / T444E, Cummins 5.9 / 8.3, Navistar 7.3 (essentially a T444 with a few differences, from what I gather from others, who can chime in if I've missed any gems), are all good engine choices to start with in the diesel department. Gas engines are not as common as they used to be, but most generally are not a problem.

In fact, the emissions equipment woes of newer diesels have caused some districts to start ordering gas models again after about 25 years. I would avoid any 05+ diesel due to emissions issues, as they are expensive to fix when they need attention.

The 6.6L Ford / New Holland diesel is a good engine in its own right, but relatively gutless, and being a tractor engine in actuality, will prove difficult to find parts for if necessary. These are made in Brazil, hence they are known as the "Brazilian" diesel.

The 5.9 Cummins came in 12 valve and 24 valve versions. The 12 valve had a known issue of a mounting pin inside the timing cover coming loose and trashing the engine. There are also the 53-series blocks that werre known to have issues. Otherwise, a solid engine and plenty of aftermarket parts support, most shops can fix/service them. The 24-valve, 1998-1999ish up, had a fickle injection pump, but make more power. The 8.3 requires a high-zinc-content engine oil and is known to encounter valvetrain problems from camshaft wear around 9,000 hrs of runtime. All three are solid engines, but have their caveats.

Transmissions: Manuals are best, but getting harder to find. Automatics: Most candidates you find will have one of these: Allison AT545, MT643, 2000, MD3060. The AT545 is very basic, and somewhat weak. Not a TERRIBLE transmission under normal use, but many need attention when they are retired and not as capable as the MT643, which is a good bit better. Stronger and has a lockup torque converter, active in 3rd / 4th gear. The 2000 is a good one as well from my understanding, this one is a 5-speed, and the MD3060 is a gem if you can find one. The MD3060 has a bit of an Easter egg -- a six-speed, limited to a 5-speed in most skoolies, but can be enabled, with the right equipment to do it.

Allison may require going through Blue Bird for this, and Blue Bird doesn't want to be bothered with it, so consider that in your purchase should you consider a model with this transmission. Thomas isn't near as troublesome about this. Smaller van-based buses will not have these, they will have whatever normally comes in the van chassis they are based on.

Brakes: Air or hydraulic? Tough question, and depends on some of the following scenarios... But if your plans include a lot of mountains / hills, I would opt for air. Though the inexperienced should not attempt servicing them, they're not as complicated as most think, and hydraulic brakes can fade quickly with mountains / hills, a very dangerous situation giving a point towards air brakes.

A manual transmission will help a lot in such a situation, but are getting harder to find. Engine brakes are almost unheard-of with skoolies, but if considering a larger one, this would be a nice selling point if the chassis and engine / trans setup are desirable.

Otherwise, hydraulic will be fine, but I would avoid late-model Fords over 2-ton (B600+ / F600+ / E550+) with hydraulic brakes -- the system those use is highly expensive to repair and maintain, and most shops won't even touch them -- assuming you can find parts without selling your first-born to buy them. I owned one such bus and learned the hard way.

Van-based minibuses are okay in this department - while they did not offer air brakes, they are not likely to have this system. Some NaviStars (Internationals) with hydraulic may or may not have this system as well, I believe it went the way of the do-do around 1997 - 1999.

Lucas-Girling built this system. More or less, a crackpot engineer tried to merge operation characteristics of air brakes into a hydraulic system -- and working as intended, it was good. But when it failed --- OH BOY. If the parking brake is a little metal box with a plastic toggle switch or anything similar, RUN. I had to junk perfectly good Ford chassis Blue Bird because of that system.

All this aside, If you want a bigger bus... Your body choices include conventional (dog-nose), and flat nose. Flat-nose are a bit easier to maneuver in most cases, but come in two flavors -- front engine and rear engine (also called RE or pushers). Front-engine buses tend to be hot and noisy to drive, especially on the highway. but have better steer traction in bad weather. Pushers are quieter and cooler in the front, and will generally have better drive traction in bad weather, but have their own special concerns with cooling at times, particularly with hills or mountains.

As I said earlier, consider carefully what your planned use is once conversion is finished. Cross-country? Back roads? Mountains? All of these merit consideration. If you're simply going to park it and live in it, most anything will do -- but otherwise, you have to consider all this to choose an optimum setup... Major work such as rust repair or such as transmission upgrades are costly and time consuming, which take away from your enjoyment. You'll be much happier on all fronts just taking your time to pick the right bus for your conversion.

Occasional jaunts with no highway cruising, chances are a DT360, 7.3, T444/E, or 5.9 Cummins with an AT545 will be just fine as long as you're okay with 55-60 mph cruising -- standard axle gears in the 4.56-5.29 range will do just fine for this.

If you're planning highway cruising, you'll really want the MT643 at the minimum -- the MD3060 is much better, and you'll want an axle gear more in the 4.11-4.56 range, I'd say.

If your adventures are meant to include mountains, you'll want the Caterpillar 3116, 3126, C7, 3208 turbo, DT408 / DT466, 8.3 Cummins, 7.3 / T444/E, the MD3060, and axle gears in the 4.56-4.88 range.

REMEMBER... Most diesels are not meant to exceed 2000 rpm, and most are most efficient around 1800. Gas engines generally should not exceed 4000, and will likely be most efficient around 2000-2500.

Just my $0.02 here, I'm sure others may voice agreement or dissent. But that is what I would look for, I think most here will agree when taking into account my stated experience and observations.

In my semi-driving experience, Freightliners with Detroit power were the most reliable, even with emissions controls. In my dream world, larger skoolies would have been Detroit-powered the moment the DD5/DD8 were available, with 5 /6 speed manuals or a Detroit/Allison automatic. Alas, Detroit powered buses are just becoming available again, after a 25-year hiatus.

Remember, all I've said here is purely in the interest of increasing your enjoyment of your purchase, and the finished product, as well as, above all, safety.

A school bus as it was built was and still is a commercial vehicle, even once it's been gutted and registered as a motorhome -- it is simply exempt from CDL requirements. Gutting it and making it into an RV does not change the fact that it weighs 12,000 lbs empty and has the mechanicals of a basic commercial truck.

It only means you no longer need a CDL to drive it because it is no longer considered commercial use. And that exemption only applies once inspected and certified as no longer able to serve its original purpose. As I stated earlier, it is still good to have knowledge of operating such vehicles.

That being said, for the newbies here, welcome to the skoolie family, and I hope your journey is a safe and enjoyable one. None of this is meant to dissuade or deter you in any way, it is meant to help you understand what you are getting into. I think there are some out there with a poor opinion of the skoolie experience, that tainted their own experience with poor choices. As I said, choose wisely.
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Old 12-27-2020, 10:35 PM   #2
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This is great and should be a must-read before buying a bus. I'm fairly new here, but have been surprised by the number of "Hey, we just bought this bus...what do you think?" posts. It's painful to inform someone their engine might be plagued with issues or they paid way too much. Thanks for sharing this!


BTW...with your Class A CDL you're legal to drive a bus, at least here in Arizona where I live. I'm a retired police officer who's been through the CVI (Commercial Vehicle Inspection) training and have a Class B with air brake and passenger endorsements. I can legally drive a semi truck, without the trailer. And you can, here anyway, drive a bus. The A allows you to also tow a trailer with a GVW over 10,000 pounds, which I cannot do. If you've got no trailer, whether a semi tractor or a bus with a GVW over 26,000 pounds, a Class B works and with your A you're golden...you're at the top of the pyramid! Once you have the Class A, you can drive all "lesser" vehicles including a car (except a motorcycle, which requires an endorsement, or tank vehicles). And the P endorsement is only required if carrying passengers for hire...so if you're alone in the bus, that shouldn't be an issue. I would presume that all states are similar, as they're based on the same Fed regulations...but that would imply some common sense.


Thanks for all you've posted and shared and offered to do for others. As I said, I'm fairly new here but your helpful spirit has already become very clear to me.
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Old 12-28-2020, 07:47 AM   #3
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LOTS of good advice in there.

I'll have to disagree on one point- inspection.

Its great to get a bus inspected, but I've never been able to. All my buses have been bought just from a few grainy pics on auction sites.
Its the detective work you do that makes the difference. Call up the bus yard and ask them about a particular bus you're bidding on or considering.
I'd agree its good advice in general to not do this, but it all depends on the buying format and price.


got cussed out on a FB group yesterday for "offending" people with my warning against emissions era navistar engines. People who'd already begun builds on "bargain" 08 and 09 maxxforce stuff started taking it very personally.
people hate being told the truth. So much ego in everything... People literally think it CAN'T be a turd if THEY bought it lol.
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Old 12-28-2020, 07:54 AM   #4
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Here's a real world discussion by fleet operators having nightmares with maxxforce stuff-
https://www.schoolbusfleet.com/forum...TOPIC_ID=39953
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Old 12-28-2020, 12:06 PM   #5
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The missing Cheesy info is why to NOT buy an old School Bus in the first place.
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Old 12-28-2020, 12:40 PM   #6
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Great post, Cheese! Thanks so much for the time & effort put into creating this!


Quote:
Originally Posted by BeNimble View Post
The missing Cheesy info is why to NOT buy an old School Bus in the first place.
You gotta be realistic with yourself regarding the risks & unforeseen expenses, don't push your back up against the wall with deadlines you likely won't meet, and be willing & able to learn what's necessary to turn your dream into a reality. It's OK to hope that everything goes Kismet, but you gotta have a plan for the worst-case scenario(s), both now and in the future, & prepare accordingly.

IMO, If you're building a bus because you can't afford an RV, home, and/or land, and you're dependent on your bus for providing transportation and/or shelter, you're setting yourself up for a really bad day. But if you have a rainy-day plan, and it's something you can live with, then various levels of risk may be acceptable.

When I was younger w/o any dependents, I would have taken the risk of an old bus breaking down on me 10' down the road just for the ability to tell the story for the rest of my life on how I owned a bus for 10'. Now... not so much. Everyone's needs, expectations, & risk tolerance is different.
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Old 12-28-2020, 04:06 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
LOTS of good advice in there – I'll have to disagree on one point- inspection.

Its great to get a bus inspected, but I've never been able to. All my buses have been bought just from a few grainy pics on auction sites.
Its the detective work you do that makes the difference. Call up the bus yard and ask them about a particular bus you're bidding on or considering. I'd agree its good advice in general to not do this, but it all depends on the buying format and price.
To each their own. I took a government agency at their word of “RUNS GOOD – WAS TURNED IN FOR NEWER VEHICLE”, and got stuck with a $1200 car that turned out to have a blown engine that cost me another $1850 to replace. Now think about that little detail applying to a 12,000-lb brick with, say, a 1998 5.9 Cummins that someone neglected to mention was trashed from the killer dowel pin. Or, say, a bus that just happened to have a fried AT545 instead of a more desirable transmission as listed (they usually don't even list which model).

It may make the process a bit more difficult and tedious, yes. But I have two examples in which inspection avoided paying too much for an undesirable bus and could have possibly cut a better deal for one that was overpriced given the circumstances.

#1 – A member here had me look over a bus they were interested in, but weren't sure about pending the transmission and a few other details. After looking it over, I determined it had the base transmission and a few issues going on that made it not worth the asking price. A few hundred saved a few thousand, as the bus was overpriced by at least $2500-$3500, and needed about $3000-$3500 minimum to be roadworthy. Still not sure I would have bought it for a lower price though.

#2 – A member here (that I won't identify here, nor will I identify the seller (in this post anyway)) had me drive a bus to them after purchase, and I arrived to find a few things that honestly bothered me, especially after learning what was paid. A massive air leak that would have had it shut down by any officer privy to proper DOT inspection procedures and regs. By massive, I mean 20-30 psi in 6 minutes. By massive, I mean bottomed out within 2-3 hours of shutdown.

Not something that should be ignored – and truthfully, should not have been driven. When I spoke to the seller about this, I got a bit of cock-and-bull excuses. Apparently they didn't take the fact that they were dealing with a professional truck driver nearly as seriously as I take the pre-trip inspection process. The leak turned out not to be of any consequence at that time, but I think this should have been addressed pre-sale, or at least factored into the price.

Also noticed some indicators that someone had monkeyed with the instrument cluster panel, and several empty sockets beneath where a warning light applique had either fallen out or slid sideways. One of the bulbs missing was for a turn signal indicator, and it just so happens that one turn signal will sometimes stay lit and not flash, even with the turn signal switch off. I also noticed that the switch would also make contact for one side or the other when it shouldn't have. Some signal systems will steadily light the dash indicator if it senses a problem, so likely this was to hide a worn-out turn signal switch, which smacks of half-assed 'repair' by putting tape over a warning light to hide (in this case) a simple problem instead of spending the money to fix it.

But it makes me wonder what other warning lights might have been on as well. Bottom line, if you expect to sell a bus for profit, you either fix things so you can get the price you want, or you adjust the price to reflect any issues. I don't think the member got a bad bus, but I think the seller made them pay for things that should have been part of the sale at the asking price, and I think some issues were covered up through tampering, which hopefully do not prove to be major.

Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
got cussed out on a FB group yesterday for "offending" people with my warning against emissions era navistar engines. People who'd already begun builds on "bargain" 08 and 09 maxxforce stuff started taking it very personally.
people hate being told the truth. So much ego in everything... People literally think it CAN'T be a turd if THEY bought it lol.
Funny how the truth has become so unpopular... One of several reasons my presence here will be waning in the future. I rather think some folks are just gluttons for punishment, and others simply have more dollars than sense.

That being said, I can see where the difference in runtime and duty cycle as a skoolie vs a daily route bus or commercial truck could make a difference in the temperament of the emissions systems.

However, it's not a theory I want to test with my own money, nor would I recommend anyone else do so. Personally, I see and hear about folks paying dealer prices for auction buses with known problem engines, and I also see 'dealers' that need to step up their game for the prices they're asking.

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Originally Posted by TheHubbardBus View Post
Great post, Cheese! Thanks so much for the time & effort put into creating this!

IMO, If you're building a bus because you can't afford an RV, home, and/or land, and you're dependent on your bus for providing transportation and/or shelter, you're setting yourself up for a really bad day. But if you have a rainy-day plan, and it's something you can live with, then various levels of risk may be acceptable.
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Originally Posted by BeNimble View Post
The missing Cheesy info is why to NOT buy an old School Bus in the first place.
Ah, a two-fer... I'll just say that bus conversion is an idea. How feasible and realistic that idea is hinges on a few things... Your DIY ability (one reason I am looking at other options), your willingness to see a project through, your willingness to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, wisdom in selecting a good foundation for the duration...

And, above all, a means of maintaining a reasonable cashflow to address mechanical repairs and maintenance when needed (the main reason I am looking at other options – I am fairly certain I am very close to filing for disability – not an income that can support this). Air brake chambers, batteries, starters, tires, fluid changes, injectors, injector pumps, steering and suspension parts, engine parts and replacement parts... All this stuff costs more on this type of vehicle than the family minivan. If I were being completely honest, I'd say that most of us are gluttons for punishment. To each their own. There really is no right or wrong answer, IMO.

I will say that I think the main appeal is knowing you did it yourself, your way. And in doing so (if you dug deep enough and did what needed doing), a skoolie owner's rig is likely better than new. And while you may ultimately spend enough that you could have bought a decent Class A/B/C motorhome or a truck and a fifth-wheel trailer, a bus is going to be much more durable, crashworthy and safe over time, for the same money. Witness the 1982 and 1983 Pace Arrows in my past.

The 1982 had an ant colony of epic proportions that had already destroyed the inside roof, and the 1983 was due for roof replacement when I inhabited it, which was exacerbated by – wait for it – another colony of ants that were the bane of my existence and ultimately destroyed the inside roof to the point it developed mold that exacerbated my asthma and ultimately forced me out of it. I, for one, have decided that I can neither realistically tackle the DIY aspect, nor can I afford the mechanical needs of such a beast. With my existing health issues and the very real prospect of being on SSI (aka 'skid row'), I have come to a realistic conclusion that I am simply not in a position to pursue such a project, though I would love to.

In closing, I will say that converting a bus will never be cheaper than an RV, but it will certainly be better if the time is taken to do things right and you can afford to do so, as well as support the mechanical issues that will pop up from time to time.
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Old 01-31-2021, 10:46 PM   #8
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Thank you!

Just wanted to add my thanks. I'm about as newbie as you can get, haven't even purchased a bus yet! But you sure have given my wife and I a LOT to think about as we seriously consider buying a bus and begin this crazy process.

I sure am thankful for the group on this site, for all the experience that is represented here. I almost feel like we won't be doing it alone!
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Old 02-16-2021, 11:34 AM   #9
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Hey all, I’m looking at getting into the game. Any opinions on a 1991 Chevrolet G-Series Van G30 MOTORIZED CUTAWAY, 5.7L V8 OHV 16V? 90k on it, it’s a correctional short bus. Serviced every 5k according to Owen County Sheriffs Dept.r
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Old 02-16-2021, 11:35 AM   #10
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Hey bud, I’m looking at getting into the game. Any opinions on a 1991 Chevrolet G-Series Van G30 MOTORIZED CUTAWAY, 5.7L V8 OHV 16V? 90k on it, it’s a correctional short bus. Serviced every 5k according to Owen County Sheriffs Dept.
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Old 02-17-2021, 03:54 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Dooblivey View Post
Hey bud, I’m looking at getting into the game. Any opinions on a 1991 Chevrolet G-Series Van G30 MOTORIZED CUTAWAY, 5.7L V8 OHV 16V? 90k on it, it’s a correctional short bus. Serviced every 5k according to Owen County Sheriffs Dept.
I'd prefer the 7.4L, but a solid platform, pending transmission. Most 1990s 5.7s will have the TH700-R4, which has a highly temperamental throttle valve arrangement for shift control. What most think is a detent/kickdown cable is actually for adjusting the throttle valve which is very crucial to trans longevity.

1991 could be equipped with a TH400, and if so, you're golden, but aside from 1983-1987 models with random case manufacture problems, the 700-R4 isn't a terrible trans if properly operated, maintained and periodic adjustment of the throttle valve cable is addressed. At some point, said cable may stretch and require replacement. If not adjusted or replaced when necessary, it can and will burn up the transmission.

Easy way to tell this is the column shift gear indicator -- P RND21 will be the 3-speed TH400, P RND321 or P RNOD21 will be the 4-speed 700-R4. That will, however, only indicate the factory trans setup. 700-R4s can be replaced with TH350s and TH400s without changing the shift indicator. Not likely in this case, but a consideration.

BTW - you double posted this. Patience, grasshoppa...
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Old 02-17-2021, 04:29 PM   #12
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First timer...all around

My apologies for the double post, it was not impatience but an unfamiliarity with this forum’s format. Thanks for your quick reply!
I am going to see the bus this Saturday, and will look for the indicators you’ve mentioned. Today, the listing was updated to include “As of today, the vehicle starts and idles, but died twice while moving it.” My mechanic friend informs me this could be anything from a bad coolant temp sensor to a needed tuneup. He has advised that I should check all fluids, and to specifically make sure the transmission fluid is red, not black. He is not local, or I would bring him along. Anything else you’d advise I pay special attention to? If you’ve got a top dollar in mind for this vehicle, an idea of that would also be helpful!
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Old 02-17-2021, 05:13 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Dooblivey View Post
My apologies for the double post, it was not impatience but an unfamiliarity with this forum’s format. Thanks for your quick reply!
I am going to see the bus this Saturday, and will look for the indicators you’ve mentioned. Today, the listing was updated to include “As of today, the vehicle starts and idles, but died twice while moving it.” My mechanic friend informs me this could be anything from a bad coolant temp sensor to a needed tuneup. He has advised that I should check all fluids, and to specifically make sure the transmission fluid is red, not black. He is not local, or I would bring him along. Anything else you’d advise I pay special attention to? If you’ve got a top dollar in mind for this vehicle, an idea of that would also be helpful!
Yes, it could be a number of things. A 1991 350 small-block (the 5.7) would be throttle-body injected, and these are rather simple systems. The regulators occasionally fail, and as it is already a low-pressure system, that could be one of several causes.

Could also be weak or failing fuel pump, and yes, it is in the fuel tank. You can spray WD-40 or carb cleaner in the throttle body bores while cranking. If it helps it to run after starting, it is likely the pump or regulator. Do not skimp on cheap aftermarkets, use only Delco or Delphi.

Check all fluids. Coolant should be a sort-of lime green. A cutaway will have an oil fill tube rather than a cap, so it's not likely you can check the inside of the rocker cover for sludge. Brake fluid should be clear. Power steering fluid should be pinkish-red like the transmission fluid (they are generally compatible and often are the same fluid with older GMs).

Ask for service and maintenance records if they are available. Most agencies should not have a problem giving you a printout if they are. In 30 years, I'd say a lot of the most common replacement parts have been done, as many fail over time, not just from mileage.

Top dollar? If it won't run long enough to move, you'll probably need to tow to a nearby shop for repair, so I'd say $1000-$2000, dependent on records. I'd start bidding at about $500. 90k is pretty low miles for a 30-year-old bus, but hours are another consideration, and there is simply no way to know that in this case. A 1991 is not likely to have an hour meter on the incomplete chassis, and I seriously doubt the coachwork manufacturer installed one either. 3,000 miles a year suggests a lot of short trips, and it could have idled a little or idled a lot.

An alternative way to possibly gauge this is to see the service records for how many accessory drive parts have been replaced, and how many times. Multiple replacements of the serpentine belt tensioner, alternator, power steering pump / hydroboost, or water pump can indicate lots of idle time, hence high hours.

Also consider that there may be parts that are no longer available from GM for this bus, and may be hard to find used or aftermarket. Not to say ooga-booga, of course, just something to be aware of. It is 30 years old, and this style was only built through around 1996-1997 IIRC.

However, if it is a P-series chassis and not just a standard G-van chassis, those were built through at least 2002, possibly later, and there are plenty of motorhomes on those chassis to scavenge for parts.
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Old 02-17-2021, 05:27 PM   #14
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Thanks for the added information. Bidding is currently at $1475, auction ends on Sunday. Since the information regarding the problems moving the van was released today, after auction start, I wouldn’t be surprised if they cancel it and start over...kind of seems like they should honestly, as it was formerly advertised as “can be driven off the lot.”
Your mention of “hours” is much appreciated, I hadn’t considered this. The vehicle was used to drive prisoner road work crews to locations to perform their duties, but I can’t decide if that means more or less idling. On the one hand, the inmates likely needed to be accompanied at all times, and a running vehicle nearby would pose a risk of escape. However, if one or more correctional officers wasn’t interested in standing out in the heat with the workers, I’d bet they’d be sitting in it idling...but sense the bus i not equipped with AC, it might actually be the worst place to hang out!
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Old 02-17-2021, 05:37 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Dooblivey View Post
Thanks for the added information. Bidding is currently at $1475, auction ends on Sunday. Since the information regarding the problems moving the van was released today, after auction start, I wouldn’t be surprised if they cancel it and start over...kind of seems like they should honestly, as it was formerly advertised as “can be driven off the lot.”
Your mention of “hours” is much appreciated, I hadn’t considered this. The vehicle was used to drive prisoner road work crews to locations to perform their duties, but I can’t decide if that means more or less idling. On the one hand, the inmates likely needed to be accompanied at all times, and a running vehicle nearby would pose a risk of escape. However, if one or more correctional officers wasn’t interested in standing out in the heat with the workers, I’d bet they’d be sitting in it idling...but sense the bus i not equipped with AC, it might actually be the worst place to hang out!
They're not likely to cancel and start over unless the winning bidder points all this out. Since it's at $1,475, if you really want it and think you can get it fixed without breaking the bank, the previous high bidder may not challenge a $1,500 bid if they notice the 'won't stay running" update, rather thinking they were saved by the bell. But no A/C? Ugh... I have severe asthma, my lungs hurt just thinking about it. Just be aware, the unknown hours could come back to bite you. Even without A/C, idle time is certainly a consideration in the wintertime when heat is needed.
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