Join Date: Sep 2013
Rated Cap: None
Hours vs Miles, or average MPH and why it is important
I'm seeing a lot of newbies asking about this or that particular candidate lately, and it appears there are a growing number of 'flippers' that buy tired auction buses and spritz them up to await the inexperienced and uninformed to plunk down astronomical prices for perhaps 300-500% profit, with little to nothing done in the way of actual repair, more often than not actually doctoring the vehicle to hide expensive problems, or the potential for them.
I always tell people, don't fall in love with the first shiny paintjob with an engine that appears happy. And don't fall in love with low miles, either. Cluster failures and replacement have become quite common in buses in recent years, making it harder to choose a good foundation for your build. Especially with newer GM cutaways that are known to randomly reset their engine hours due to a design flaw.
Just an FYI, even with a correct and original cluster, miles do not tell the whole story. Hours are what is important. Some will have an hour meter built in to the tachometer, some rear-engine pushers will have one in its remote start console in the engine bay.
Most any should have a way to read them from the ECM / PCM, if equipped, but these have been known to fail and require replacement as well, another thing to watch out for. Here's why hours are important. They are engine revolutions and wear and tear that do not show up on the odometer. Quite simply, divide odometer miles by engine hours and it will give you a much better idea of how the bus was used.
Most route buses average 3-9 miles per engine hour, some from 9-18. Others that do more field trips / away games / band meets, etc. (activity bus) will average from 18-25, and I've seen a few that average as high as 29. Higher MPH ratio means easier miles with less stop-and-go.
High miles can also mean the engine or trans could have been replaced, which can be verified by the serial number on each component. But don't believe it's been replaced just because it's clean -- dealers don't call Steam Jennys and power washers 'the 30 minute overhaul' for nothing, and I have seen many a dirty trick to hide expensive problems to unload a seemingly good vehicle that was actually a ticking time bomb.
Take a recent example posted by another member, a shorty with a handicap lift and 325,000 miles. Even at 55 miles per hour average (true highway miles and would make it any bus a unicorn), it would still have run 5,909 hours. Even a diesel can be halfway to a rebuild by then.
A handicap door / lift can indicate an extremely low mile per hour ratio. Reason being that you have an average of 10-15 minutes of idle time per stop from the time the lift goes down to being loaded to going back up to a wheelchair being strapped in, and that's for each wheelchair student.
There's no real way to know this to an exact without hour readings specific to the vehicle in question. But think about it -- for example, with 6 wheelchairs, four times a day (load/unload AM, load / unload PM), 5 days a week, 9 months a year, for an average of 10-15 years. Or, simplified...
15 minutes x 4 = 60 minutes per day.
6 wheelchairs = 6 hours per day.
5 days per week = 30 hours per week.
4 weeks per month = 120 hours per month.
9 months per year = 1080 hours per year.
15 years of service = 16,200 hours over a normal service life.
16,200 hours at 60 mph would be 972,000 highway cruise miles, but the odometer only shows 325,000. Now you see why hours are important.
Being a shorty, this example was likely a dedicated special needs bus and may have been on the mid-to-outer limits of the miles per hour average hierarchy due to a bit of cruise mileage between stops. A quick rundown of the possibilities in multiples of 3 miles per engine hour...
3 miles per engine hour = 108,000 engine hours
6 miles per engine hour = 54,166 engine hours
9 miles per engine hour = 36,111 engine hours
12 miles per engine hour = 27,083 engine hours
15 miles per engine hour = 21,666 engine hours
18 miles per engine hour = 18,055 engine hours
21 miles per engine hour = 15,476 engine hours
24 miles per engine hour = 13,541 engine hours
27 miles per engine hour = 12,037 engine hours
30 miles per engine hour = 10,833 engine hours
So, as you can see, a bus with 325k could have the equivalent of anywhere from 595,815 to 5,940,000 highway miles in terms of revolutions, depending on the miles to hours ratio. Most engines are tired or have already been replaced by then. Even with stellar maintenance (and records), everything wears out sooner or later.
I wouldn't say to pass a high-mile bus up if there is a lot of wiggle room, but I wouldn't pay over $1000-$2000 for it unless true low engine hours or a replacement engine at some point can be proven. Again, just because it's clean doesn't mean it's been replaced. As I said, dealers don't call Steam Jennys and pressure washers "the 30-minute overhaul" for nothing.
So don't get baited by low miles, especially if the bus came from a city district, such buses will tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum in regard to average mph, meaning it could have the equivalent of 2,000,000 highway miles worth of revolutions. Above all, NEVER buy ANY vehicle sight unseen without inspecting it in person, or having a qualified mechanic look it over for you.
Remember, no dealer is in it solely for YOUR benefit, they are in it to make money, and some would rather hide problems by plucking bulbs out of warning lights or make BS excuses and justifications about where the vehicle was used to hide their penny-pinching and laziness in correcting problems that can sometimes be serious, just because it cuts into their profit.