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Old 10-27-2021, 07:43 PM   #1
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No engine skoolie?

What's holding me back from making my skoolie dreams a reality is engines. Being able to trust these huge, complex engines in these older buses is scary for me. My question, what if one removed the engine completely from the skoolie, turning it into a towable custom RV, similar to an Airstream. The bus becomes lighter, and you could (can't you?) use a heavy duty passenger truck to tow it, right?

I've done some googling, haven't seen this. Anyone out there take this approach? Thanks.

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Old 10-27-2021, 07:50 PM   #2
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I'm not trying to be snarky, but why? If you're talking about towing an engine-less school bus behind a truck as a camper, why not just buy a camper trailer? Even sans the engine a bus is far heavier than a camper trailer and won't have the same comfort or capacity. I'm just not seeing the benefit to this approach.

Also, are you envisioning the front wheels still on the ground or some kind of chop-and-weld project to make the front end like a fifth wheel?
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Old 10-27-2021, 08:05 PM   #3
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Thanks for replying. Even the used towable campers I've seen are expensive - small ones starting at $15k -whereas if you're just buying the bus for the body, mileage on the engine and the engine age become unimportant. From what I've seen, even very large buses are available for as little as a few thousand dollars.

A towable bus, custom built on the inside, seems like a nice hybrid between living in an commercially built RV and building an entire towable tiny house from the trailer up.

What I was thinking of was a heavy duty truck towing a bus with all four of the bus tires on the road.

But I appreciate what you are saying about the weight.
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Old 10-27-2021, 08:22 PM   #4
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I think you'd be better off learning a little bit about diesel engines so you're not so intimidated by them and find a bus with a decent drive train. Dragging a converted school bus around, even with a 1 ton dually would be an event every time you move it. Ironically, anything that could tow it would probably be diesel powered.
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Old 10-27-2021, 08:42 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BeachJen View Post
What's holding me back from making my skoolie dreams a reality is engines. Being able to trust these huge, complex engines in these older buses is scary for me. My question, what if one removed the engine completely from the skoolie, turning it into a towable custom RV, similar to an Airstream. The bus becomes lighter, and you could (can't you?) use a heavy duty passenger truck to tow it, right?

I've done some googling, haven't seen this. Anyone out there take this approach? Thanks.
Good on you to be cautious. I'm pretty mechanically-minded but I also fear the bigger rigs. The only diesel I ever knew was farm tractor, so it's a mystery and keeps me from considering it because I want to have enough knowledge when/if things go wrong, and not be learning stuff on the side of the highway, if at all possible. I don't need the stress.

My bus is a gas V10 - certainly bigger than my Ford pickup but basically the same engine just with more cylinders. I'm still a little intimidated every time I pop the hood but not completely out of my comfort zone like I would be with diesel, which feels like a whole new ball game.

Having said that the biggest risk with engines of any kind or size is age, and how well they've been maintained. Lower mileage is better. Search these forums for many detailed discussions about what 'low mileage' means-it differs depending on whether you're talking gas or diesel, or even with diesel, the engine class (e.g. Maxxforce diesels with modern emissions). If I ran across a diesel rig in my search I would have spent a lot more time studying up on what to look for.

And there are also great tips here for learning about your prospective rig's maintenance records. I didn't bother digging into them because my rig had relatively low miles (127K) and was owned by the State of CA DMV, so I think it's safe to say it was well cared for.

It's okay to be careful, but you are also able to do research and learn, and that is definitely a skill you'll need for the conversion.

Have fun with the search!
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Old 10-28-2021, 02:33 AM   #6
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Or acquire a commercial trailer.
Remove the under-carriage from the bus, permanent-mount it to the trailer.
.
And tow the tonnage/windage with a MDT (MediumDutyTruck) or HDT (HeavyDutyTruck) powered by a diesel engine.
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Old 10-28-2021, 02:50 AM   #7
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...Having said that...my rig...was owned by the State of CA DMV, so I think it's safe to say...
.
Many mechanics invest great care into parenting their mechanical babies.
But the instant I saw 'State of CA DMV', I shuddered.
.
No reason.
Just got a sudden chill.
As though many millions of clenched-jaw squinty-eyed red-faced DMV customers simultaneously raised frustrated fists.
.
.
An aside:
Was your rig managed by bureaucrats?
Was your rig owned by California tax-payers?
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Old 10-28-2021, 05:55 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BeachJen View Post
What's holding me back from making my skoolie dreams a reality is engines. Being able to trust these huge, complex engines in these older buses is scary for me. My question, what if one removed the engine completely from the skoolie, turning it into a towable custom RV, similar to an Airstream. The bus becomes lighter, and you could (can't you?) use a heavy duty passenger truck to tow it, right?

I've done some googling, haven't seen this. Anyone out there take this approach? Thanks.
I've seen a few done this way. It's not the route I'm taking, and I don't think it's a good idea for several reasons.

Sure you will cut some weight off the bus by removing the engine, transmission, drive shafts, etc... but it's still going to be a HEAVY beast. For me, as I don't regularly pull trailers, pulling a heavy trailer is way more difficult than driving a heavy vehicle. Then you still need to get a vehicle that is capable of pulling a heavy beast, which is almost definitely going to have a less powerful engine than the one the bus has. Additionally, there isn't much of a price difference between a bus that doesn't run and a bus that does run, especially if you add in the necessary component removal and conversion to trailer that you are proposing. If you are intimidated by the engines in a bus, are you also not intimidated by the engines in a truck? Go check out a diesel mechanic book from the library or order one online so you at least have a basic understanding and some troubleshooting skills. I chose a pre-electronics engine so I wouldn't have to worry about sensors, computers, etc...
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Old 10-28-2021, 10:03 AM   #9
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Think about what you might spend overall.
My bet is it would be far cheaper to buy a low mileage bus, convert it and use it for several years.
And pay someone else for all repairs.
Versus a trailered bus and truck capable of towing it and still have the issue of running a mysterious diesel or gas engine that is less than 20 years old.
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Old 10-28-2021, 10:09 AM   #10
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I've seen it done as well. They'll take the frame of the bus and weld a gooseneck trailer frame to the front of it. All of these units were done by farmers or hillbillies that already have a 1 ton truck to pull it. And you can buy blown up buses for scrap value.

Now, I'm not saying they're right or wrong by doing this, but none of them had the brakes on the bus functioning, which is illegal, being that the bus(now trailer) is over 10k lbs weight and brakes are a legal requirement at that point.

Before anyone starts, you can spare me on the SMV exemptions and all the other dmv loop holes farmers use that normal people can't.

To use the air brakes on the bus to make it legal, it would require an air brake equipped tow vehicle, or a rube goldberg contraption mounted to the tow vehicle to apply and modulate the brakes. Or you could convert the bus's rear axle to some sort of electric brake, if that even exists. Maybe if the bus was juice brakes you could use a surge brake setup, but I'm not aware of a surge hitch in a gooseneck style. And I feel your typical school bus is too heavy to be bumper pulled with a normal surge brake hitch.

And like Rwnielsen said, 90+% of the vehicles you'd use to tow this would be diesel powered anyways. So keep the bus self propelled. FWIW, I've found school buses to be easier to repair and service then most 1 ton diesel pickups fwiw. The only "complex" part is the scan tools, as you can't wander into any parts store and have them run a free "diagnostic" for your check engine light.
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Old 10-28-2021, 01:04 PM   #11
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I know a couple who bought a bus they were intimidated by and never planned to drive. Their plan was to have it towed around to wherever they wanted to live in it.
The bus has sat where it is for at least 8 years now.
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Old 10-28-2021, 03:15 PM   #12
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Not a bad idea. Why do it over buying an RV trailer, the same reasons we build a Skoolie instead of buying an RV. WE want what we want, how we want it. In the 70's I took 2 Chevy vans, cut the front and side off one, the back and opposite side from the other. welded the right side to the left side and had a trailer that had sliding doors on both sides and barn doors on each end. If you did this with a bus, you would have a huge trailer that could be parked and avoid many of the DMV issues. I'd like to see one done.
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Old 10-28-2021, 07:11 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LargeMargeInBaja View Post
.
Many mechanics invest great care into parenting their mechanical babies.
But the instant I saw 'State of CA DMV', I shuddered.
.
No reason.
Just got a sudden chill.
As though many millions of clenched-jaw squinty-eyed red-faced DMV customers simultaneously raised frustrated fists.
.
.
An aside:
Was your rig managed by bureaucrats?
Was your rig owned by California tax-payers?
Funny you should mention this. Just came back from a State of California DMV visit. I got into a conversation with the the guy who handled my registration. He did three VIN conversions (turning a school bus into an RV) this week, and it's only Thursday.

I told him I'm part of a community of folks doing conversions, and asked if he had any advice dealing with the DMV. He said the most common challenge with conversions is the bus is not ready for the vehicle inspection. Make sure you read and understand the requirements for a vehicle to be considered an RV, and meet them before you come in for that inspection. They know exactly how to handle the paperwork, and are happy to help folks with the process, but that's the most common reason for problems.

My bus was definitely owned by the taxpayers of California, and it was maintained by the California Office of Fleet and Asset Services, thank God. As best as I can tell, it sat for most of it's first twenty years of life (6K miles per year?)
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Old 10-28-2021, 07:22 PM   #14
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theres a time I knew zero about engines or transmissions or anything really. till I started getting my hands dirty and learning.. learning way before we had google and duck go and PDF.. now i tear the things apart and put em back together even before i have my double espresso for the day!




if you make a bus into a really heavy camper trailer then you are still have to learn about what happens when you overload the engine on a poor unsuspecting pickup truck trying to tow such a rig and blow it to pieces...


buy a bus in good shape.. send it out to a mechanic if necessary to have it checked over.. then start learning about your new rig so when things start to go wrong you can either fix them yourself or be knowledgeable when you send it off to a shop for work...
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Old 11-03-2021, 09:19 PM   #15
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I once saw a school bus that turned into a 5th wheel type trailor. The frame in front of the fire wall was modified to be the goose neck for the 5th wheel.

You know if you find a bus you like you could get a heavy equipment mechanic to check it out. Cheaper than turning it into a trailor and buying a tow rig.
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Old 11-04-2021, 02:48 AM   #16
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Neat idea but it may or may not be worth it. I did it with a old surfer van I got for $100. I turned it into a cargo trailer. Itís been great storage vehicle that I only need to move every few years.
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Old 11-04-2021, 04:41 AM   #17
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theres a time I knew zero about engines or transmissions or anything really. till I started getting my hands dirty and learning.. learning way before we had google and duck go and PDF.. now i tear the things apart and put em back together even before i have my double espresso for the day!




if you make a bus into a really heavy camper trailer then you are still have to learn about what happens when you overload the engine on a poor unsuspecting pickup truck trying to tow such a rig and blow it to pieces...


buy a bus in good shape.. send it out to a mechanic if necessary to have it checked over.. then start learning about your new rig so when things start to go wrong you can either fix them yourself or be knowledgeable when you send it off to a shop for work...
I Agree with CadilacKid. Don't be afraid of something, just acknowledge that you currently do not know it and go about learning it. We are our own biggest obstacle.
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Old 11-04-2021, 05:28 AM   #18
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Old 11-04-2021, 11:53 AM   #19
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Thanks for replying. Even the used towable campers I've seen are expensive - small ones starting at $15k -.
We bought our 2006 21.5' fifth wheel, flagship model, about 5 years ago. We paid $5,000 out the door from a dealer who specializes in retailing trade ins that he gets way below market value because those new RV dealers want you to buy the latest and greatest whiz bang $90,000 behemoth....not the trade in they took for peanuts (even if the paperwork says yo got top dollar on your trade, the trade was built in to the cost of the new rig).
They want that trade in off the lot FAST.

So this dealer picks them up and parks them in a storage lot where he leases an entire row and has his office set up. Overhead is miniscule, inventory cost is a quarter on the dollar, and he makes his money on volume.
Our plan was to get the GF used to the RV style with the 21.5' and then retire in a 40'. We even bought the F350 to pull the big trailer. Then we got some water damage through the roof, did some investigation into how to repair it and found how horribly they're built.
So, they're not that expensive if you buy used and buy smart. But a Skoolie is STEEL, doesn't leak if yo do it up right, and wont disintegrate if you crash going down the freeway.
But COST savings isn't there. Our skoolie is going to be north of $35,000. We could get a pretty nice used 40' for that amount....but it would still be a POS RV compared to a BUS conversion.
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Old 11-04-2021, 12:26 PM   #20
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We bought our 2006 21.5' fifth wheel, flagship model, about 5 years ago. We paid $5,000 out the door from a dealer who specializes in retailing trade ins that he gets way below market value because those new RV dealers want you to buy the latest and greatest whiz bang $90,000 behemoth....not the trade in they took for peanuts (even if the paperwork says yo got top dollar on your trade, the trade was built in to the cost of the new rig).
They want that trade in off the lot FAST.

So this dealer picks them up and parks them in a storage lot where he leases an entire row and has his office set up. Overhead is miniscule, inventory cost is a quarter on the dollar, and he makes his money on volume.
Our plan was to get the GF used to the RV style with the 21.5' and then retire in a 40'. We even bought the F350 to pull the big trailer. Then we got some water damage through the roof, did some investigation into how to repair it and found how horribly they're built.
So, they're not that expensive if you buy used and buy smart. But a Skoolie is STEEL, doesn't leak if yo do it up right, and wont disintegrate if you crash going down the freeway.
But COST savings isn't there. Our skoolie is going to be north of $35,000. We could get a pretty nice used 40' for that amount....but it would still be a POS RV compared to a BUS conversion.

plus when you build it you know whats in it.. you know what to replace when it breaks.. you know what to build with so you Can replace it when it breaks.. you dont build in all kinds of stuff that you dont want but could still break.. you put in it just what you need / want..



as you build you learn.. when your bus is done you will know every inch of it well! makes it much easier to spot something little wrong before it gets big.. also allows you to carry spare parts for the things most likely to break and leave you stranded, by buildimng it you also know what tools are essential to have..



lots of Plusses to building your skoolie vs buying an RV..
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