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Old 01-27-2020, 01:09 PM   #1
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Is a Skoolie the right choice?

Hi all! New to the forum and considering buying a short bus for conversion, but I'm not sure it would survive what I plan to put it through or be a good choice.

My partner and I do school assemblies. Currently we drive a Jeep Compass from school to school staying in hotels with all of our stuff and equipment packed in here like a sardine can. Obviously this isn't comfortable or economical.

We'd need a bus that could handle 30,000 miles a year for at least two years, with lighter driving afterwards. That's intense daily use throughout the school year, mostly on the highway. A bus that goes less than 55 mph would really increase our travel time. We'd also need something that could handle mountains and wasn't too thirsty - around 14 mpg.

We go all over, both city and rural areas. I'm concerned about parking the bus in cities and about breaking down in a rural area where parts/service wouldn't be available.

And of course, we have our equipment with us. It's a lot, enough to take up all the storage space underneath a bed. I'm worried about having enough space to comfortably store things with our equipment taking up so much room.

I'm also 6ft tall and worried about standing in the bus.

What do you experienced folks think, is a short skoolie a good choice for us? Could it survive that kind of workload? If yes, any suggestions on types of engines we should look for or avoid?
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Old 01-27-2020, 01:20 PM   #2
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I'd go with a Sprinter or some sort of cargo van. 55+mph, mountain and city driving, high-mileage and decent fuel economy? IMO a school bus doesn't fit the bill in any of those categories, much less all of them.
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Old 01-27-2020, 01:49 PM   #3
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NPR Isuzu box truck (for ex) sounds like a much better use for your intended driving style.
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Old 01-27-2020, 01:56 PM   #4
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school busses at 65 are easy.. even big ones will run 65 if bought in the correct configuration.. however you wont run mountains (and dont want to) at those speeds.. think semi-trucks. in mountains.. you have to keep a lock on speed so you can keep the brakes cool and able on the downside..



school busses in cities and burbs.. they do this all the time, certain cities if you have to go deep into neighborhood schools might present issues if streets are narrow.. for instance here in my city the neighborhoods that are old and historic run short busses vs full size... even the streets where the school is are sometimes narrow.. (german village and victorian village columbus ohio for examples)..



if you plan to live in your bus while doing an assembly, you would want to make sure you have a place to stay... ie will school regulations permit you to camp on site in your bus (think RV)... and would you have to be fully sdelf sufficient.. ie no shore power or water or dump station available..



MPGs... 14? not gonna happen in a school bus.. I have my little 6 window 24 foot bus dialed in about as good as it gets and my average is 11 to 14 absolute tops.. if im running 65 and have any kind of wind at all im getting 10-11.. cross winds and headwinds that are stronger than say 10 MPH. and my MPGs are down in the 9s..



if the intention is to save the cost of hotel rooms , then you need to look at the distance and fuel costs you spend now between "stops" vs what you would likely average in a bus.. for instyance if you usually travel far distances between assembliesd and only stay 2 nights.. it may not be any cheaper to drive a bus..



esp afyer you factor in the fact most busses use 5 gallons of oil and like to be changed every 5000 miles, that diesel fuel seems to average 50 cents more a gallon in many areas than 87 octane gasoline, that if you have no access to shore power you are either going to have to rely on solar and roughing it (A/C on solar is tough).. or using fiuel to run a generator.. whatever kind of heating fuel snd cooking fuel you might need.. etc..



take line by line what your average money spemnt is now then apply it to how it would likely play out with a bus..


you may find its better to continue to stay in hotels... factoring in if you make a lot of points you get occasional free nights.. and tier status in hotel loyalty programs offers perks.. (for instance i get free breakfast and free light evening food at every hilton branded hotel i stay because ive reached diamond status).. there are days I never buy any food at all...



-Christopher
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Old 01-27-2020, 03:19 PM   #5
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Thanks for your input Christopher!

I had read that 14 mpg is a generous average for shorties but I guess that thread didn't take into account highway driving.

We've been on tour 17 weeks now. We've collectively spent nearly 6,500 dollars on hotel rooms and AirBnbs staying in budget places close to the school we need to be at, which is about $380 a week. We travel an average of 750 miles per week, which at 14 mpg is $160, 10 mpg it's $225, assuming diesel is 3 bucks.

Right now my boss pays for our gas and car payments, so I'm hoping to make an arrangement with him to cover some of the cost of gas if we decide to go through with this.

We also eat out *a lot*, an average of $20 dollars a day each, because we don't have access to a kitchen. I have a cooler and a hot plate and usually make a large meal over the weekend that I'll eat as leftovers for dinner three times a week. I also make my own breakfasts. But without space and a permanent set-up, cooking is too inconvenient for lunches and daily meals. This is my main motivation for wanting a Skoolie. I can't estimate how much we'd save in this category, but I know it'd be significant.

If anyone could provide resources on what I can expect things like heating and cooking fuel to cost over time so I can better budget, that'd be appreciated. I've looked but I only come across folks saying to 'take it into account' without providing any numbers.
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Old 01-27-2020, 03:32 PM   #6
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A lot of people lately are using chinese diesel air heaters. A 5000kw one seems capable of heating a decently-insulated bus in below-freezing weather, and on full blast they go through about two gallons of diesel a day. So you'd be looking at about $6 a day ($180 a month) for heat in the coldest weather (proportionately cheaper depending on how often you actually need to run it).
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Old 01-27-2020, 04:23 PM   #7
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Much better than I'd expected for heat, that doesn't sound bad at all.

It's good to know I could get something that'd handle highway speeds (What would 'the correct configuration' for that be by the way?), and that even at a lower mpg it's probably better than hotels.

I'm still concerned about it blowing up from the intense driving and high mileage as well as the space restrictions being unreasonable while carrying our gear.

The lack of space is why I don't think a van would work for us, not without adding a cargo box or a trailer. The stuff needs to be protected from the elements and has to be unloaded twice a day so roof storage is out.
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Old 01-27-2020, 04:35 PM   #8
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Much better than I'd expected for heat, that doesn't sound bad at all.

It's good to know I could get something that'd handle highway speeds (What would 'the correct configuration' for that be by the way?), and that even at a lower mpg it's probably better than hotels.

I'm still concerned about it blowing up from the intense driving and high mileage as well as the space restrictions being unreasonable while carrying our gear.

The lack of space is why I don't think a van would work for us, not without adding a cargo box or a trailer. The stuff needs to be protected from the elements and has to be unloaded twice a day so roof storage is out.
To handle highway speeds, you mainly want a (numerically) low rear axle gear ratio (something rarely listed in bus ads). To handle mountains, you mainly want any transmission other than the dreaded AT545.

I would also be worried about putting 30,000 miles a year on my bus, especially when any breakdown will potentially put you (and your home) at the mercy of whatever mechanic you can find when it happens.
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Old 01-27-2020, 04:48 PM   #9
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I own 3 busses.. I bought my red one 3 years ago with 144k on the clock.. I have about 202k now... iot had the AT545 trans which I did ruin and upgraded to a much better unit.. had I bought a bus wit ha good trans im guessing i wouldnt have replaced it.. I got new tires because i wore mine out... havent done anything really to the engine other than normal maintenance.. 5 gallons of oil ever 6000 miles.. replaced a couple heater fan motors.. re-vamped the Air-conditioner..



my DEV bus i got almost 4 years ago.. it had 87k on the clock..(the bus has much more but the engine was replaced at 87k). I have 106k now (last 5k estimated as my odometer hasnt worked).. I did a 4000 mile roadtrip in that bus this past summer..

it also had an AT545 trans which I wasted and upgraded to a new Better trans..




my 3rd bus is a restorable classic so it doesnt get on on big roadtrips too much... its biggest trip was the 2700 mile drive home from oregon..





Moral of the story buy something with a Transmission that is NOT AN AT545!...



I drive my busses a LOT.. in contrast I traded a dodge RAM pickup truck I had for 2 and a half years in and it had 8000 miles.. my chevy spark thats a year old has 3000 miles on it... I drive my busses a LOT more than my cars... and I roadtrip all over the place..


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Old 01-27-2020, 04:58 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Gray View Post
Much better than I'd expected for heat, that doesn't sound bad at all.

It's good to know I could get something that'd handle highway speeds (What would 'the correct configuration' for that be by the way?), and that even at a lower mpg it's probably better than hotels.

I'm still concerned about it blowing up from the intense driving and high mileage as well as the space restrictions being unreasonable while carrying our gear.

The lack of space is why I don't think a van would work for us, not without adding a cargo box or a trailer. The stuff needs to be protected from the elements and has to be unloaded twice a day so roof storage is out.
If you can afford the price a sprinter will be much much more comfy for all those miles and will have much better highway manners as well as fuel economy.
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Old 01-27-2020, 04:59 PM   #11
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To handle highway speeds, you mainly want a low rear axle gear ratio (something rarely listed in bus ads). To handle mountains, you mainly want any transmission other than the dreaded AT545.

I would also be worried about putting 30,000 miles a year on my bus, especially when any breakdown will potentially put you (and your home) at the mercy of whatever mechanic you can find when it happens.
Numerically low, yes. But numerically low is actually "high" gearing.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:05 PM   #12
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Numerically low, yes. But numerically low is actually "high" gearing.
Yes, I meant numerically low. I have the same problem when talking about bicycles so I use "big" and "little" instead.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:25 PM   #13
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If you can afford the price a sprinter will be much much more comfy for all those miles and will have much better highway manners as well as fuel economy.
My budget for the conversion and purchasing the vehicle is going to be about $15k. (Feel free to tell me if that's way too low for a bus conversion. It based this off of budgets I found for van conversions.) I plan to do everything myself and get as many materials used/second hand as possible. Definitely can't afford a Sprinter.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:30 PM   #14
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My budget for the conversion and purchasing the vehicle is going to be about $15k. (Feel free to tell me if that's way too low for a bus conversion. It based this off of budgets I found for van conversions.) I plan to do everything myself and get as many materials used/second hand as possible. Definitely can't afford a Sprinter.
I wonder if one of those van cutaway buses would fit the bill? I had been thinking you were talking about a conventional style shorty, but one built on a van chassis probably gets better gas mileage and might be easier to find parts for.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:55 PM   #15
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I wonder if one of those van cutaway buses would fit the bill? I had been thinking you were talking about a conventional style shorty, but one built on a van chassis probably gets better gas mileage and might be easier to find parts for.
I've heard that buses built on van chassis are really difficult to work on. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the suggestion!
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Old 01-29-2020, 12:12 PM   #16
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I've heard that buses built on van chassis are really difficult to work on. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the suggestion!
I think the worst part about most of the van cut-away chassis are that they are maxed out for weight when built. It's a constantly loaded p'up truck so it wears out quickly...

If you have time to find a bus from one of the western states (WY, CO, UT) where the bus has to go hwy speeds, and hilly areas, it will be maintained and geared the way you'd like it.

There's a lot you can do cheaply in your build as you figure out if this works since you're going from one urban area to another (as opposed to 'boondocking')
fer instance -- you can get by with a good cooler or two since you'll be near grocery stores (and block ice) nearly every day.

When I was in KY I cooked my steak (or fish) every night on an outdoor propane grill to keep the heat/smell out of my trailer.

National gym membership for showering -- my wife pays $20/month for her membership and can bring a guest every time she goes.

A quality sleeping area in the bus, reading/sitting area, food prep.

Point is: you can build out your bus/box truck/cargo trailer very cheaply if you don't try and replicate a hotel room inside the bus.
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Old 01-29-2020, 01:01 PM   #17
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I'd be reluctant to purchase any decades-old out-of-warranty vehicle for use where you have to keep a tight schedule traveling 1000s of miles in order to make a living. I think skoolies make awesome Recreational Vehicles. The difference between recreational & occupational is that when the former breaks down, your source of income doesn't come to a screeching halt.


$15K could be a solid down payment on a slightly-used sprinter w/ a factory warranty still in play.
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Old 01-29-2020, 01:19 PM   #18
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Look at Ford Transits or the Nissan vans.

Sprinters out of warranty are incredibly expensive to fix and they also never seem to figure out how to do anti-corrosion. Lots of Sprinters start rusting badly at the 5-6 year mark.
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Old 02-01-2020, 03:45 PM   #19
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I own 3 busses.. I bought my red one 3 years ago with 144k on the clock.. I have about 202k now... iot had the AT545 trans which I did ruin and upgraded to a much better unit.. had I bought a bus wit ha good trans im guessing i wouldnt have replaced it.. I got new tires because i wore mine out... havent done anything really to the engine other than normal maintenance.. 5 gallons of oil ever 6000 miles.. replaced a couple heater fan motors.. re-vamped the Air-conditioner..



my DEV bus i got almost 4 years ago.. it had 87k on the clock..(the bus has much more but the engine was replaced at 87k). I have 106k now (last 5k estimated as my odometer hasnt worked).. I did a 4000 mile roadtrip in that bus this past summer..

it also had an AT545 trans which I wasted and upgraded to a new Better trans..




my 3rd bus is a restorable classic so it doesnt get on on big roadtrips too much... its biggest trip was the 2700 mile drive home from oregon..





Moral of the story buy something with a Transmission that is NOT AN AT545!...



I drive my busses a LOT.. in contrast I traded a dodge RAM pickup truck I had for 2 and a half years in and it had 8000 miles.. my chevy spark thats a year old has 3000 miles on it... I drive my busses a LOT more than my cars... and I roadtrip all over the place..


-Christopher
Christopher
Hello! I’m a new Schoolie Owner.
Question: I purchased ia 1996 Chevy Schoolie. Do you know what the engine type would be? It’s in “service” getting new heat & ac. Had never heard about the transmission type being an issue.
Thank you!!
Best,
Judi
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Old 02-01-2020, 09:45 PM   #20
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If I were you I might get a large cut away style bus, like a Ford Chevy diesel. Then get a hitch with an enclosed trailer carrying all your stuff in there. The smaller bus could get worked on by most regular shops and towed by a smaller cheaper truck than a big bus. Don’t get a Sprinter, they’re junk and will send you to the poor house with repairs.

If you aren’t picky about the interior you could convert it cheap inside (eg, screw an old dresser; save old cabinets from the dump etc) but still nice with a coat of paint. But also depends how resourceful you are and how thrifty. A big expense might be getting good insulation in it but otherwise used stuff might do.
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