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Old 01-06-2022, 01:53 PM   #1
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Schoolie vs RV reliability

I've been researching schoolies and early 2000's RVs for a potential full time living situation with moderate travel around the US. I love the idea of a schoolie because I enjoy and am pretty skilled at designing and building things. On the other hand, there is something to be said for remodeling an RV that already has the requirements for full time living.

I just joined a diesel pusher group on Facebook and read all the posts on RV maintenance and was pretty shocked to hear about all the reliability issues. It sounds to me like annual maintenance and repairs on an RV run around $4000-8000 annually, much of it due to mechanical component failure, even with consistent preventative maintenance.

I am wondering if schoolies are similar in their unreliability, assuming preventative maintenance is performed like it should be? I would think so because the drivetrain is largely the same between a diesel pusher RV and a diesel pusher bus. The other components like HVAC, electrical, and appliances should be about the same too.

Thoughts?

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Old 01-06-2022, 04:34 PM   #2
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In my humble opinion-- anything with DEF or an EGR cooler is prone to problems. Anything late model-- I would take my chances on a gasoline engine rather than a newer diesel. For one fuel system failure on a diesel, you could probably replace the entire gasoline engine.

HEUI systems on the 7.3 powerstrokes seem to be very reliable, fail in a way that does not take out the entire fuel system, and have good parts availability.

If you have a HEUI failure on a CAT or DT466e-- it "could" be an expensive event-- and the Cummins CAPS system can be a disaster money wise.

The safest bet is an old mechanical fuel injection system-- which has simple mechanical injectors -- no EGR, no DEF, no Variable geometry turbo--and fuel pressure up to maybe 2000 PSI, but more noise, and potentially less fuel economy-- but really reliable.

The EPA has declared war on diesels, and fixing the new ones with all the smog stuff is not for the faint of heart....

Rant off....
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Old 01-06-2022, 04:47 PM   #3
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Mileage will likely be lower on a RV vs school bus.
The easy way through a choice that you describe, is the RV.
Will the RV still be on the road 10 years from now? Or will the school bus after your conversion?

Guess it partially depends on if you can do the work, or if you will be farming out the work?

Don't know how soon you're ready to move on something, and there's certainly a lot more to consider before pulling the trigger on either one, but there's a start on things to ponder before opening your wallet.
Good luck...
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Old 01-06-2022, 05:51 PM   #4
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The simple answer is School buses have to work every day in some pretty big fleets and they do it for at least 10 years. Motor homes have to keep the owners happy a couple times a year on vacation. Motor Homes sit, it's not good for them. They are built with much lighter drive train components, many RV's are over the GVWR with full tanks. Compare GVWR between School Buses and RV's. Bigger GVWR gets you bigger brakes.
I would suggest building a bus the way you want it.
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Old 01-06-2022, 06:00 PM   #5
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And then there is water leakage.

RVís are built with thin balsa and pulp wood. Get water in the walls, pulp wood expands, floors get soft and rot.

Skoolies are all steel, custom built by the owner using no pulp or balsa wood.
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Old 01-06-2022, 06:41 PM   #6
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From what I see most skoolie breakdowns are the result of poor owner maintenance. If you buy an older bus that is all mechanical that is a big plus. However they are also at the age that hoses belts anything rubber is old and tired. Taking the time up front to replace ALL rubber will be money well spent.



I had a power steering hose let go and it caught fire, lucky I put it out in time with only minor damage. I know of at least two others friends who had the power steering hose let go. No fires thank goodness. A good example of old rubber needing to be replaced.


Plan to go over the engine carefully, compression check, oil pressure at idle hot, flush coolant system, add coolant filter. I would also check transmission oil/hydraulic pressure. Steering, jack it up and check for play in every joint. You get the idea. Thorough inspection and replace parts before there is trouble will keep you going many miles trouble free.



I have had an rv before, and 5 years of road travel, beat it to death. I scrapped it literally. I know that I put 150,000 plus miles on it. Rv's just are not made for that.
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Old 01-06-2022, 06:54 PM   #7
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I will add a couple cents:
School buses are built to a strict set of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and those are different than the FMVSS required of RVs. A lot of RV's will collapse in a wreck while school buses won't. RV's will drop in value a lot in 10 years, while school buses have already dropped most of the value (resale value).


I have only worked on Crown buses so I cannot speak about other makes, but I can work on the Crowns (not everything). Crowns use chassis, engine and driveline components common to over the road trucks so that repairs could be accomplished at truck stops.


Converting a school bus to a motor home isn't simple or necessarily easy, but you can make things your way and use a lot of components that come from a hardware store or a big box store like Home Depot.


To make the choice between factory RV or converted school bus (skoolie) one needs to asses whether they want to do a lot of work to make their RV, or simply buy one, and how long do they want it to last.


I had a class C motorhome before I had a skoolie and found it very cramped to stay in, not warm in the winter, and not at all comfortable to sleep in. It got 6 mpg with a 360 cu in. v8 and auto trans.
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Old 01-06-2022, 08:39 PM   #8
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If yo want to see how poorly RV's are made, in particular the roof and siding, this youtube channel is a Georgia roofing business that now has an entire section of their business that is FULL TIME repairing replacing RV roofs.
Some RV's are better than others and Class A's are generally better than trailers BUT....
If you want to go full time, I would seriously AVOID AT ALL COSTS a rubber roof no matter a trailer, 5th wheel, class A, B, or C motorhome.


Watch a couple of their vids of just how poorly these things are made.


https://www.youtube.com/c/RVROOFINSTALL/videos
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Old 01-06-2022, 08:41 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ewo1 View Post
And then there is water leakage.

RVís are built with thin balsa and pulp wood. Get water in the walls, pulp wood expands, floors get soft and rot.

Skoolies are all steel, custom built by the owner using no pulp or balsa wood.
YEPPERS
We were all set on buying a big 5th wheel. Went out and purchased an F350 just to pull it. Bought a small 5th wheel to fill in until time to go full time. Got a little water damage on the ceiling and found the above YouTube channel while looking for how to repair it.

THAT is why we have a 40' RE in the driveway.
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Old 01-07-2022, 09:24 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by flattracker View Post
I will add a couple cents:
School buses are built to a strict set of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards ....
Great point. Who hasn't seen those pictures of RVs sliced open or flattened?

Not sure how a shuttle bus fits in the crash test, but a school bus? The biggest risk is not securing everything so in a rollover (or flopover) the stuff doesn't squish you.
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Old 01-12-2022, 08:13 PM   #11
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I’ve had a bunch of RV’s since I bought my first 17 years ago and build quality was probably the biggest reason I decided to go with a bus.

One of favorite RV’s was a 2014 travel trailer we bought brand new, there’s always problems with them but here’s a couple examples - after owning less than 2 years a piece of exterior trim broke so I tried to order a new one only to be told that part was discontinued. After a few years the floor started to develop soft spots which felt like it was sinking down and I was simply told there is no fix for that. I ended up screwing some plywood underneath to try to stabilize it and it helped a little but it didn’t fix it.

After I ditched the trailer I went with a 2007 gas class A motorhome, it was built much better but it still wasn’t what I would’ve hoped for. It needed a new water tank which was no longer available to buy (so I fixed it). The built in generator was good but most parts weren’t available anymore for when it did break. The frame on the motorhome would flex too much in the wind and it blew me around like a kite; at one point the windshield started to separate from the frame in the wind. I always had to drive slow when it was blowing. When I got my bus I was amazed at how solid it was in the wind I could hardly feel it. And I don’t really worry about roof leaks in the bus like I did with RV’s.

My motorhome only had 600 hours on the engine when I got it which was super low for the year. My bus had like 8400 hours I think. The RV’s are so shiny and pretty, bus conversions usually not as pretty. RV’s are smiled at in RV parks, bus conversions are smiled at and many people are in awe by them as long as management lets you stay there. We have been told by management we’re not welcome at some campgrounds in the US, in Canada nobody seems to care.

There are good quality motorhomes out there but they’re expensive and still subject to problems. In a diesel pusher they’ll also have a more powerful engine. Not necessarily an easy decision but I don’t think I’ll go back to a RV. When my kids move out and it’s just my wife and I, we might downsize to a small bus or possibly a van but build ourselves.

And a note on the Cummins with CAPS injection system, abt 1998-2003, if you install a fuel lift pump that operates all the time you shouldn’t have a problem with the CAPS pump and it should be a reliable engine. It’s a long explanation that I can explain if you’re considering one.

As for overall cost for mechanical repairs on a bus compared to a diesel pusher RV, your guess is as good as mine.
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Old 01-12-2022, 08:59 PM   #12
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I currently use a 1999 class C. As an RV. A few weeks out of the year. Generator doesn't work. Roof leaked and was "fixed" with flex seal. A lot of delamination.

But most of the systems still actually WORK.

Many skoolies builds have bad systems because these require some expertise to do these right and parts aren't just available at a local store.

There's a lot of things that seem to be overlooked by skoolie builds:

Driver's seat comfort
Headroom
Heating and A/C while driving / while boondocking / while plugged into shore power...
Skoolie windows (keep bus windows?). what about screens / bugs while parked.
Hot water capacity.
Refrigerator that'll run all the time and store food cold.
Stove and oven that doesn't take up too much space... Exhaust fan for cooking to escape small space.
Plan for always (12V) on lights and "outlets" that can run tv or cell phone chargers etc while running the inverter. Then also a directly powered 120V outlet next to it for when running generator or shore power. This can power space heaters, vacuum cleaners, and any higher amperage draws. (counter appliances). Coffee maker, toaster,
A microwave.

Anyway, there's a lot of house built into an RV.
Most YouTube walkthrough, classified ad, tv show featured etc school bus do not have everything an RV offers.

Another big consideration for buy vs build:. Do you have the space and tools and time for a build?

You can't borrow money against the vehicle for a skoolie builds either.

Seems to me like a $20k budget with $20k reserve to ensure it's done right will get you a bus that's well built and 15-20 years old. $40k gets you a class A RV that's 10-15 years old with popular features like bunks and slidouts.

I'm interested in taking on a bus build this spring potentially. But it's just because I'd like the challenge, my class C is beyond repair and will rot away (laminated walls and thin water damaged wood) and will shake apart.

I'd like to think a skoolie is infinitely repairable. Even if there's a leak or a wall issue, the worst risk is expensive rust. But it won't "rot". Even rust can be cut out and be metal welded in.

I'm assuming that I can get what I put into it if I want to sell. I'm assuming that I could use it for about 10 years.
Assuming I don't need to store in a building. Assuming that I'll actually like it and be confident to trust it.

The big reasons I'll like the performance of a skoolie:. More stability laterally while driving. More weight capacity. Diesel torque curve will drive better than Ford V10 typical RV engine. Towing capacity for a toad.

And if you take on a build, you'll know it is stronger and better built than RV interiors.
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Old 01-12-2022, 09:17 PM   #13
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This is what a $67,000 bumper pull RV looks like with the skin removed. It is 1.5"x1.5" pine, stapled and glued together, with 1/16" aluminum stapled to the 1.5x1.5 with about 3/4" of insulation before the 1/8" board interior wall.


This is why I bought a bus.
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Old 01-12-2022, 09:29 PM   #14
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My grandparents had a 5th wheel trailer in the early 2000s that I lived in one summer while I was in college.

Now as an adult, I'm looking for an "RV" that I can take a vacation once or twice a summer and winter in for a couple months as I become a proportionately young snowbird-er (yay for being self-employed in an industry where remote work is the standard). I'm going the skoolie route over a traditional RV, and here's how I came to that decision:
  1. I can afford to "self-finance" my build and won't need a bank loan to buy something to pay off over time (this is the main benefit to a conventional RV).
  2. I plan to keep it long-term. Skoolies have crap for a resale market, so if you think you'll just sell it off in a couple years and recoup your investment you're probably smoking something that's still illegal in my state
  3. I like to create and build things.
  4. I like to learn how to do new things (just posted a few minutes ago in another thread about learning to weld)
  5. I have time to build something before I actually *need* it. If I were planning a trip that I'd be leaving for 2 months from now, then a Winnebago would be in my future.
  6. If I'm going to invest a lot in something then I want it exactly how I want it. With a skoolie I can do my own floor plan exactly as I want and not have to pick one out of six in a catalog.
  7. That 5th wheel was cheaply made and you could only fix things by ordering parts from a dealer. There was no fabricating fixes. Your skoolie build is as good as you make it. If you buy cheap RV parts for things in your kitchen and use 3/8" OSB, then you'll have to fix or replace them. If you buy higher quality parts and better lumber, you still may have to fix them but you're more likely to not
  8. I had no idea how the underlying mechanics were built to even attempt to fix anything on that 5th wheel. On a skoolie I'll design and build so all the knowledge for future repairs is there. I can plan ahead and create easy-access panels for components more-likely to fail. Replacing a hot water heater won't necessitate removal of a slide-out...
  9. School buses are built on commerical frames designed for the long haul. When paired with a solid, even older engine, and properly maintained, a good diesel with 250k+ miles is more reliable than some gas engines with only 75k miles. You still get out of maintenance what you put in... ignore those 20 year old hoses because "they're not leaking yet" or that oil leak that "doesn't seem that bad" and you'll be waiting for a tow with either one. My mechanic friend once told me "anyone who tells you all diesels leak is an idiot. A well maintained diesel does not leak because a responsible owner will immediately notice and fix any leak that develops."
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Old 01-12-2022, 09:39 PM   #15
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You'll get a better truck in a school bus than an RV, unless you go with a top of the line RV. If you buy smart you can get a big old school bus for the price of a used car.

That said, only do a skoolie if you want to do all the hard work that a quality conversion entails. Though, you could do a quick and dirty conversion, use the thing, and then sell it for scrap. That would probably be the most fun route on the skoolie highway.
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Old 01-13-2022, 04:48 AM   #16
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You'll get a better truck in a school bus than an RV, unless you go with a top of the line RV. If you buy smart you can get a big old school bus for the price of a used car.

That said, only do a skoolie if you want to do all the hard work that a quality conversion entails. Though, you could do a quick and dirty conversion, use the thing, and then sell it for scrap. That would probably be the most fun route on the skoolie highway.
We got our 40 foot rear engined turbo diesel Skoolie with all brand new dunlop tires (still had all the little mold nibs), alloy wheels, and automatic snow chains for $5,300. We plan to put 30-40 thousand into it and have a full time home on wheels for 5 years before we settle down and are only on the road half the year.
Our STEEL bus will not disentigrate if we're in an accident.
Our STEEL bus will not need new roof caulk every 3 months
Our STEEL bus will probably return 20-30 thousand when we're done with it rather than fall apart while we're using it.
We've seen far too many YouTube videos of bumper pull, fifth wheel, and class A crashes where underwear is strew for 100 yards and the only vehicle parts identifiable are the frame rails (and cabs on the A/B/C's).
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Old 01-13-2022, 07:38 AM   #17
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I owned slide in truck campers before I went skoolie. I agree with everyone's points here.

Especially the older campers, they will literally fall apart if you don't obsessively recaulk all the seams on the roof and sides every 6-8 months. All it takes is a pinhole leak and the water damage starts. I've seen delamination on BRAND NEW rvs that cost 50k to start. Also with the worker shortage in Indiana where most of these are built quality has taken a huge nosedive.

Also, many RV specific parts are poorly made and hilariously overpriced. Fridges and water heaters are the worst offenders but its very common.
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Old 01-13-2022, 07:44 AM   #18
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to me it comes down to maintenance and usage.. vehicles can and do wear out but vehicles are designed to go.. letting them sit is the worst thing you can do to a vehicle.. the fuel gets old, the oil gets moisture, UV light ruins the tires faster than driving average miles, rust forms in cylinders so when you start it up your rings wear heavily for a few revolutions..



Semi trucks sometimes drive 750,000 miles before they pull the engine apart to refresh it.. semi's never sit for more than a few hours at a time.



like Ronnie says rubber wears with age.. seals go bad.. A/C systems lose their freon when you dont run them, blower motor bearings seize up if they are turned on..



a single water leak into an interior not only can form mold but it can seize up bearings on motors, cause corrosion on computer wiring, switch panels, etc..



pretty much all school busses leak a little in heavy rains.. but since they are driven all the time the moisture is purged often by the outside air change, the switches are used regularly as are the fans, etc..



when you make your build dont do bonehead moves.. ie dont cram things like hoses, wires, etc in so tight that you cant reach them if something needs service.. dont impede your Bus's ability to be services.. ie blocking access to maintenance panels, ompletely covering up heaters, etc..
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Old 01-13-2022, 12:27 PM   #19
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Wanderlodge. Done.
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Old 01-13-2022, 01:29 PM   #20
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What does this thread think about the potential of being able to replace an engine in a skoolie?

In an RV, the body will shake apart and deteriorate before the drive train fails generally.

In a used drivetrain in a bus, if you put $20k into the interior, what happens if you need a new engine or other major drivetrain fix?

I assume you can just do it with the confidence knowing that the replacement will last and the vehicle itself will last because it's steel and not flimsy.

Or would it be better to get a new bus and do work to transfer your interior from the broken bus to the new bus re-using the expensive stuff in the interior build.

I guess it depends on whether you want to let a mechanic do engine work or embark on a months long project yourself.
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