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Bus Discussion => Bus Topics ( click here for quick start! ) => Topic started by: mjcostel on August 15, 2010, 04:36:42 AM

Title: Bus advice request
Post by: mjcostel on August 15, 2010, 04:36:42 AM
First post after a significant time lurking.  Seeking general bus advice.  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

What do I want a bus for?  I have a family Bluegrass/Gospel band. (2 adult-4 children)  Short touring gigs a possibility in our future.
Here are the things I think (in my ignorance) would be best for us. 

1.  40'
2.  Reasonable storage underneath.
3.  Simple and reliable.  (I don't care if it can go 70MPH or do a hill at 50.  I'm a patient man.)
4.  Reasonable fuel efficiency.  (8-11 MPG vs 6-7 MPG)

This set of requirements point to any particular model/year for anybody?

I have seen numerous 80's coaches in the 5-10k range on price.  Some indicate engine rebuilds and other such maintenance.  What are some of the major mechanical pitfalls that I should be on the lookout for?  Am I unlikely to find a reliable bus in this price range?

I would want to have an experienced diesel mechanic take a look at the rig before buying.  How hard is it to find a reliable mechanic who can provide this service?  How much might he charge?  Would such an inspection be able to reasonably guarantee that our bus would be good to go for 100k miles without major component failures.

What are the general approximate cost of some of the following when they fail and what other systems might generate big dollar repairs?

Engine rebuild or replacement with a low mileage used.
Transmission replacement.
Tire replacement. (How many miles will you get off a set of tires?)
Brake system.

Thanks again for your time.


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: bevans6 on August 15, 2010, 05:48:50 AM
Speaking totally generically, I am positive there are buses out there that break these rules, some comments.

Big underneath storage means looking at highway coaches rather than transit or school buses.  Highway coaches in 40' size will usually have three big storage bays.

Highway coaches from the 1980's usually have two stroke Detroit Diesel engines that will yield between 6 and 7.5 mpg, or less, if you get a good one and drive in the 55 - 60 mph range.

40' buses, safe highway speeds and 8 - 10 mpg rarely happen in the same vehicle.  The better mileage buses are shorter so they can be lighter, probably won't have the underneath storage  bays that you will need, and would have 4 stroke diesel engines so they would be kind of 1995 and newer in age.  That's around when the change from two stroke to 4 stroke started to become universal.  4 stroke diesel engines get better mileage, in most cases, than 2 stroke of similar capability.

Fuel mileage is only one aspect of overall operating cost.  The reason it's important to many is that it is an incremental cost rather than a sunk cost.  Everytime you turn on the engine, fuel mileage reminds you that it's there.  But - in the long term buying a bus in good shape with the storage you need and size you need, with a 2 stroke that you manage to average 6.5 or 7 mpg with may cost you less over 10 years than spending a lot more to buy a newer bus that gets 9 mpg.

Look for a bus that is already converted into the pattern you want.  It is virtually impossible to buy a shell and do a conversion for what you will be able to buy an already converted, ready to use now bus for.  That also speaks to residual values and depreciation, unfortunately...

Hope this helps a little, anyway.


edit:  Assuming you have someone else do the work, and a 1980's bus

What are the general approximate cost of some of the following when they fail and what other systems might generate big dollar repairs?

Engine rebuild or replacement with a low mileage used. between $10K and $15K
Transmission replacement.    Assuming a typical auto, $5K
Tire replacement. (How many miles will you get off a set of tires?)  budget $450 each installed.  Mine get old, the don't wear out...
Brake system.  brake job, just shoes, $2K.  Add drums, $1K. Canisters $50 to $500 each, depending, slack adjusters, cams, rollers, air lines, compressor, tanks, valves - all you have (picture cartoon of person holding wallet upside down and moths coming out...), it can be a lot.  Hence buy a bus that is converted and being used by someone, so you don't have to do the major repair, just the routine maintenance

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: robertglines1 on August 15, 2010, 06:29:48 AM
I bought a previous bus from a large dealer and had them run it Thur their shop $750...gave me a detailed list of condition of all systems..also buying from a dealer they have to make it DOT legal before delivery...That being said there are a lot of factors here the most important is how much can you do yourself?  Bus nuts in your area are very knowledgeable and can help you with evaluation of workability of bus systems...Parts are reasonable for MCI 8's and 9's that would be in your price range....also consider a older conversion to make sure you like the life style..;you can usually get most of your money back on one..Late model Transits with 4 stroke are very reasonable as are 40 ft school buses..we paid 3,000 for one from local school district with papers 25,000 mile engine and 1,000 mile trans good tires and ready to go...made a nice entry level coach for neighbor...bought a wrecked motorhome for 2,000 put the two together and had a complete coach all systems air,gen,tanks,TVs and all other systems total cost $7,000 dollars..so how much can you do your self?----family is most important----get a good safe bus----welcome to the hobby----it will give you good times and fellowship..Brian  hit it on the head; don't let fuel economy cloud the complete cost of operating a coach...your Location would help with responses....Bob  S.W. Indiana

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: luvrbus on August 15, 2010, 07:21:43 AM
Michael,just about all highway coaches made in early 80'S with a 8v71 and a 4 or 5 speed manual transmission will get you in the 8 to 11 mpg range with storage you are not going to win races but a 8v71 set at 250 to 270 hp will get you there.
People like comfort so they want automatic transmissions and high hp like a 6v92 with 350hp or 8v92 at 500 hp and they pay a price with fuel and I think fuel will be factor in times to come.
Check all makes outs  not to start a war here but the Eagle has always gotten better fuel mileage than Prevost or the MCI, Eagle spent a lot of time in the wind tunnels working on fuel mileage you guys go easy on me just trying to help the new guy.PS keep the conversion as lite weight as possible and watch the right foot you will get there

good luck

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: cody on August 15, 2010, 07:27:00 AM
One of the biggest scams running are the 'recent rebuild' claim, most of the people that are just entering the bus world come from a car background with probably a camper, the very fact that most buses have mileage that is out of sight scares a person that is used to seeing nothing over 100K on a car so when your asked to accept a vehicle with between 500K and a million miles or more on it, generally the heart stops and the wallet shrinks, to ease the pain you'll notice that a large amount of ads state that a recent rebuild was done, this would be great if it were true, most times it isn't, unless they can provide documentation of the rebuild it likely never happened.  It doesn't seem logical that a person would invest 10 to 20K in a rebuild and then advertise the bus for 8K and sell it, it could happen and probably does but I would think it's rare, generally, if a person has invested in a rebuild they will have documentation of it, don't be afraid to ask for that documentation and if they can't provide it then assume that it's not been done, another good policy is to give a good BUS mechanic a few bucks to go over the unit and check it out, it's money well spent to know the actual condition of the bus and not the stated condition from the seller.  There are good people here on the board scattered all over the country and might be close to where any potential buses might be located, these people could possibly look it over and give an opinion on the bus or might actually know the particular bus.

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: buswarrior on August 15, 2010, 08:46:15 AM
As noted, there's way more ca$h involved than for fuel.

However, fuel economy out on the road is dictated by the big three, frontal area, speed and weight. Choice of drive train, engine/transmission/gearing has an impact, but it isn't like you get a lot of choice, and the manufacturer took care of that compromise for you, in most applications.

The first two are the big ones.

Pushing wind is an exponential issue when it comes to energy use.

So, what do you really need the storage bays for?

A 40 foot transit has a lot less frontal area to push wind with, (not as tall as the highway coaches) The ones being discarded now are all 102 wide, may have 4 stroke and overdrive, can be had cheaply right out of service from a government agency that has no problem putting a new drive train into a bus that will be sold in 6 months. With some research and some luck, there are great bargains out there in transits.

Also, see what is available in the way of older entertainer coaches. Use the space where a set of unneeded bunks are for the missing kitchen/bath/shower, depending on the floor plan.

happy coaching!

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: mjcostel on August 15, 2010, 09:05:19 AM
WOW!! Guys. Tons of information to process.  I am extremely grateful for the responses.

For your information I am in the Denver area.  My wife and I are going to look at a bus for the first time.
http://denver.craigslist.org/rvs/1896724441.html (http://denver.craigslist.org/rvs/1896724441.html)

Some friends of ours have a 63 GMC PD 4104.  Their experience has me a little scared.  Two years ago on a trip from SC to Colorado their bus broke down twice on the way here.  I am not sure what was wrong or what it cost them to fix it but I'm guessing it was not cheap.  This year on a trip to the same festival they did not even make it out of SC before they broke down.

I relayed this information to another bus owner and he indicated that if you get a bus made in the 80's or newer that the likelihood of having those issues would be significantly reduced.  Any thoughts on this?

Thanks again,


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: buswarrior on August 15, 2010, 09:46:55 AM
To be blunt, that many break downs sounds like maintenance was not being done, chances were being taken.

There are many, many very reliable older coaches out there, that could re-enter revenue service, and criss-cross the continent with no trouble. There are others, like the one you have posted, which I would be VERY suspicious of.

It is all about whether the maintenance is being done, the noises followed up on, inspections being done, driven periodically, and CA$H being spent.

As for the '81, chipboard, in my opinion, is evil in a bus conversion, there are wild extremes of humidity and temperature inside a coach, that stuff soaks up moisture and it off gasses. Particle board has the same problem, soaks and swells.

By all means go and look at as many used buses as you can find, you'll quickly learn what you don't want by looking at stuff. 

My first guess is there's a big problem with that '81, otherwise, why let it go at this point?

happy coaching!

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: David Anderson on August 15, 2010, 10:50:49 AM

Jim Sheppard is in Evergreen and is a big contributor to the bus community.  He has an Eagle 10.  Look up his profile and give him a call.  www.rvsafetysystems.com (http://www.rvsafetysystems.com)


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: mjcostel on August 15, 2010, 11:01:23 AM
I'm starting to lean more towards the 1970-1983 Eagle or MCI with the 8v71 and a manual transmission.  I don't need the frills or speed.  That being said, I saw a beautiful 71 Silver Eagle on Craigslist in GA.  The one thing that gave me pause was the manual steering???  Anyone ever drove a bus without power steering?  Is it easier than it seems?

http://atlanta.craigslist.org/sat/rvs/1898281747.html (http://atlanta.craigslist.org/sat/rvs/1898281747.html)



Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Busted Knuckle on August 15, 2010, 11:10:44 AM
1st off yes many of us have driven buses without power steering! Is it a problem, hmmm loaded question. Once rolling it is not hard at all to steer, but if sitting still and needing to turn hard you'd better be stout and ready for a work out!

Buswarrior hit the nail on the head! If a coach is not maintained YOU WILL HAVE FAILURES. But if given proper care, maintenance and inspections they will roll, & roll on down the hwy mostly trouble free!
My family & I own a charter bus company and have had our ups and downs but I can assure you if the buses are gone over before and after every trip and problems fixed when found, they are not the nightmare your friend has you afraid of. (yes b4 and after, believe it or not things do break or go bad while sitting!)

Happy hunting!
;D  BK  ;D

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: luvrbus on August 15, 2010, 11:15:45 AM
Manual steering is not that bad as long as the bus is moving trying to turn it on a dead stop is a bear fwiw power steering was never a option on a Eagle till the late 70's  

good luck

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: James77MCI8 on August 15, 2010, 12:53:54 PM
There are plenty of buses that have been converted for sale today. Be patient and you will find one that suits your needs and your budget. As already stated make sure that the claims the seller are pitching can be backed up with a paper trail. The other part of the equation that is just as important comes after the purchase. This being the maintenance, insurance and fuel for the bus. In your original post you mention that this purchase will be used for performance gigs in close proximity to your home. It is my experience that that the bus is is the most well paid member of the group. I have been involved in all genre of music and traveled with bands most of my life and the one thing that people don't understand is what it costs to keep a bus road worthy. I am not saying this to discourage you in any way. I am on my third bus and still loving the hobby. Just be warned that if you do not follow the information given in other posts, that your fellow band members and sometimes family will not be as enthused as you are when sitting on the side of the road waiting for the mechanic or tow truck to show up. They will be equally enthused when they have to come off the hip to pay for the aforementioned cost. Small venues rarely cover the cost of meals must less the cost of maintaining a bus. Owning a bus as a hobby is more easily justified than owning a bus a band fixture. Either way I wish you well.

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Dreamscape on August 15, 2010, 03:21:17 PM
We have manual ("Armstrong") in our 01 Eagle. I really don't mind it, but it would be nice if we were in areas with lots of turns. I've thought about converting it but I think we'll just leave it alone. It ain't broke so I ain't gonna fix it. Just less to worry about leaks, pumps, hoses ect.. ::)

We have other priorities at this time anyway! ;)


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: oldmansax on August 15, 2010, 07:01:22 PM

My wife & I do something similar. We minister at small churches. Based on our experience for the last 3 years, the first thing I would say is try to get something WITH power steering. Lots of the little  churches we go to are tight to park in. Power steering is a big help. We have an MCI MC7. It allows me to dump the tag axle. Another big help in close spots. Get as much water & holding tank capacity as you can. We have 120 fresh, 60 black & 60 gray; it is never enough. Try to get your bus so you CAN live in it if all you have is a 20 Amp receptacle. We can do that in ours & it has been a big help. No one wants the genny running all night on side of the church. Ours has a manual transmission & it's not too bad except trying to maneuver on steep hills. Our tires dry rot before we wear them out. Some folks don't like propane but if you have 6 people you are going to want to cook. Get a propane 4 burner range with an oven. We have fed 10 people in our bus. It was REALLY tight but we did it. One guest commented it was the first time she had eaten supper setting on the toilet...  ;D ;D

Our 8-71 gets around 7MPG.

Already converted is the way to go in today's market. That said, I think buying an already converted coach THAT HAS BEEN WELL MAINTAINED  for 10K is going to be tough. You can buy some coaches that look good & will break down before you get out of town for 10K, or you might buy a shell in good mechanical shape for 10K, but I don't think you will get both. About 20K is more realistic.

We have never regretted buying a bus. As a matter of fact, we are getting ready to sell ours & buy another one.

Keep looking, You'll find something you like.


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: pvcces on August 15, 2010, 07:14:45 PM
Michael, I noticed that nobody mentioned that GMs were set up to meet your needs. I'm sure that part of the reason they didn't get mentioned is because GM ended highway production around the beginning of the period that you mentioned.

We have a 1964 PD4106 that we have put around 80,000 miles on in the last 9 years. We have never had a breakdown other than a starter not working. It turned out that lack of maintenance was the cause.

One result was that we found out how easy it is to start one of these with a bad starter. This is true of the manual transmission only! It's much harder with an automatic if it has a rear pump, and impossible if it does not.

Our overall fuel mileage is about 9.5 mpg and the 40 foot GMs will get very nearly the same mileage. These are built to do 65 or 70 day after day. They're not slow at all. Keeping the conversion light gives very good performance.

For what it's worth.

Tom Caffrey

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Barn Owl on August 15, 2010, 09:03:08 PM
Whatever your budget is x10 is where you will end up. Give us some more info on what you want or don't want. It is hard to go through all of the pros and cons of every make. Get good at searching the archives. Post what you find.

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: mjcostel on August 16, 2010, 07:58:13 AM
Thanks again for all the great advice. 

The family and I had a good time looking at the '81 MCI.   The kids were awed by the sheer size of it.  It was nice to get the feel of the space inside.
It looked like a real money pit, however.  Tires were bad.  Seller was not able to start the engine. (Said the battery was not charged)  Looked like it had sat for a few years.  I don't think I would try to build on that shell if it were free.  Nice folks showing us the bus.  Wish them the best.  But I can't imagine someone paying 8500 for it.
I will continue to scour the interwebs for something that will fit our needs.  I think I am much better equipped now to make a good decision.

Seems like I need to find an MCI, GMC, or Eagle with 8v71 and a manual transmission.



Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: TomC on August 16, 2010, 08:04:29 AM
One of the most fuel efficient buses made were the Grayhound conversions to the 4 cylinder Detroit Series 50.  Yes they vibrate a bit when idling, but with proper soft engine mounts can be minimized.  The Series 50 uses twin counter rotating balance shafts that run off the oil pump drive (it is the only engine I know of that you have to time the oil pump) that the gears are a bit on the weak side.  If you do buy a bus with the Series 50, drop the pan and have the balance shafts rebuilt right away.  Then your good for another 200,000 miles or so.  I believe these conversions were done on either the 8 or 9 MCI.

Personally-my favorite bus is the MCI 102C3.  102" wide (that extra 6" makes a big interior difference), has 6'10" headroom, and gobs of under storage with huge windows.  If you could find one of these with either a Cummins ISM, Detroit Series 50 or 60, that would be perfect.  Good Luck, TomC

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: kyle4501 on August 16, 2010, 09:05:10 AM
GMC PD4905 is a 40 foot bus with HUGE bays & since they are very efficient with space devoted to the engine, you have more room in the bays.
GMC buses have more engineering behind them than any other bus make & as a result, they are the lightest for the size. The rounded corners make for less wind drag. The 270 HP 8V71 will be the best compromise of cost, power, & fuel mileage.
The lighter the conversion, the less speed you lose up hill.

However, the 4905 buses weren't the best for tight turns due to the long wheel base.

An example:
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=150478176794&viewitem= (http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=150478176794&viewitem=)

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Busted Knuckle on August 16, 2010, 11:06:20 AM
here's a possible candidate.
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1960-GMC-RV-bus-DIESEL-PUSHER-w-diesel-12k-generator-/250680994804?pt=Buses (http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1960-GMC-RV-bus-DIESEL-PUSHER-w-diesel-12k-generator-/250680994804?pt=Buses)

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Busted Knuckle on August 16, 2010, 11:12:42 AM
another one
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/93-MCI-COACH-BUS-5-SPD-STICK-/220653249960?pt=Buses (http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/93-MCI-COACH-BUS-5-SPD-STICK-/220653249960?pt=Buses)

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Busted Knuckle on August 16, 2010, 11:15:52 AM
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1972-GM-Silver-Eagle-Bus-/160468013945?pt=Buses (http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1972-GM-Silver-Eagle-Bus-/160468013945?pt=Buses)

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: Busted Knuckle on August 16, 2010, 11:23:56 AM
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1978-GMC-Bus-Buffalo-Ride-RV-Conversion-Motor-Coach-/200508345137?pt=Buses (http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1978-GMC-Bus-Buffalo-Ride-RV-Conversion-Motor-Coach-/200508345137?pt=Buses)

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: rv_safetyman on August 16, 2010, 05:34:03 PM
Michael, as noted, I live in the Denver area.  I travel a bit, but if I am home, I would be glad to look at a bus in the Denver area after you give it a once over the first time.

I am on the fence about an already converted bus.  They can be very cost effective ***IF*** the conversion was done properly.   Done poorly, they can really cost you and can be a safety hazard in some cases.  

You will be money ahead if you look at a ton of buses so that you can build up a good frame of reference.

If you get interested in Eagles, there are a bunch of threads about Eagles for sale at:  http://www.eaglesinternational.net/ (http://www.eaglesinternational.net/)

The Eagle Mall and General Eagle Chat forums are open to the public.  Many of the buses listed in the mall have comments by the members as to whether they are worth looking at.

We probably need to have an idea of your budget.  That might help us hone in on possibilities.


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: mjcostel on August 17, 2010, 04:52:05 PM
Busted Knuckle - Some nice coaches there.  The 78 Buffalo is particularly nice.

Jim - Budget -  If the coach has no conversion work done I would not want to go over 7-8K.  A mostly completed one I could go up to 15k if it was in very nice condition.   The 15k would be a delay since I would need to beef up the bus fund. 

Thanks again,


Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: steve wardwell on August 17, 2010, 05:22:10 PM
I wouldn't put much faith into that hubodometer reading for the last rebuild, just sayin.........s...........

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: ruthi on August 17, 2010, 07:01:55 PM
Hi, we have had a gmc 4905 for better than 15 yrs. We have put hundreds of thousands of miles on it. She is still a good bus. We are building our own bus now, almost done. Lots of work, and lots of money, but, it is gratifying seeing it all come together, and knowing that we did it.  We just sold our gmc. The new owner has a band and travels the southeast. He is not taking ownership of the bus til the end of October, when we finish up our work for the year. The thing we will miss most in the gm is the bays. They are huge. What James said about the cost is something to consider though. Even when everything is going well, there is still a lot of money that goes into them, just an oil change is stagering, lol.  With that being said, we would never go to an RV over a bus. We drove the wheels off of a motor home when we first started working on the road, literally, lol.  Good luck on whatever you decide.

Title: Re: Bus advice request
Post by: MikeH on August 18, 2010, 08:51:41 PM
Hi Michael,

I sent you a PM.