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Author Topic: Bus conversions and money  (Read 4263 times)
belfert
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« on: November 01, 2006, 01:58:51 PM »

I'm going to try very hard to make this my last post mentioning money.  Ace thinks mentioning money will discourage future busnuts, so I will stop.

Bus conversions cost money, lots of money.  My experience is that a conversion will cost more than most ever figured.  In my case, a LOT more than I figured.

I figured I could do a very basic conversion for $60,000 to $65,000 with a shell cost of $36,500.  I am at around $75,000 to date with at least $5,000 left to finish my conversion.  Some of the extra cost came from mechanical work like brakes and wheel bearings, and part of it from doing extra things along the way.  (Things like I hadn't planned on new windows, but the old ones were shot.)  I paid $9,000 for brakes and wheel bearings as busnuts I talked to didn't recommend I do it.

Yes, you can do a conversion on the cheap, but you have to have a long timeline and good mechanical skills.  With a long timeline, you can find a lot of conversion parts used for less money.   An older shell will cost less, but will likely require more mechanical work.  This isn't a big issue if you consider your bus conversion a hobby and not a means to an immediately usable RV.  There are plenty of users on this board who spent much less than I have and are very happy with their conversion.

Personally, I am 34 years old.  I have a mortgage and a car loan to pay still.  I would say that a majority of the bus nuts I have met are in their 50s or 60s and most likely have a little more money to spend on their bus conversion.  I wanted to do a bus conversion early in life while I still have lots of time to use my conversion instead of waiting, but I have learned that waiting may have been better.

I set a very unrealistic time frame to get my my bus conversion done.  I thought I could basically be done in 5 to 6 months, but that didn't happen and it will probably take me two more summers to get completely done.  The push to get things done fast cost me some extra money along the way.  The extra money I spent along the way has tapped me out.  The bus will sit most of the time for the forseeable future because I spent so much on it that I simply cannot afford to drive it anywhere.

I would love to get to more rallies to see how others finished their buses, but I simply can't. 

I would highly recommend BEFORE buying a bus that you visit some bus rallies.  You don't need a bus to go to most bus rallies.  I could have saved some money by talking to more busnuts before I bought my shell.

Don't let money discourage you from doing a bus conversion.  Bus conversions can be done on almost any budget.  You just have to be willing to do a little more work if you have a small budget.

Brian Elfert
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jaybe_2
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« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2006, 02:43:06 PM »

Nine grand for brakes and bearings seems VERY Hi. What did they replace?
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Ace
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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2006, 02:48:13 PM »

Brian, frist off let me say this. If you even thought that you would do a conversion, ANY conversion, especially at spending 60k-65k and have it done in 6 months, you would have to be out of your mind unless of course the money was for labor for someone else to do for you. That MIGHT get it done quicker!

As for the cost that your up to now? IF you have THAT much (75K) into your bus to date and it's not liveable YET, then you have a LOT to learn! I understand the extras like brakes,bearings, and such but dude, come on! That's party of the maintenance and should be considered the same just as a new roof on a house or a water heater or painting. Let me also add that if you have already spent 75K on a bus that is supposed to be a hobby for most of us, it should be done if not almost done. You should be travelling to a lot more rallies with a lot less gripes about petty stuff like fuel prices!

I'm not trying to discourage you about your purchase. I'm merely trying to open your eyes about someof your statements. You got an oil leak. There's probably 90% of the conversions out here that have a leak similar but it doesn't slow them down from being used! Youi have a door problem. Guess what? I do too but I'm using it the way it is! You had a brake problem? Hmm, me too. Probalem is i can't get to it to fix it right now but that's not keeping me from using it. I know it's minor and not a threat to me or anyone else. You stated you paid 9K for brakes and bearings but was told NOT to do it your busnut friends. Well then, why did you? Maybe it wasn't as bad as you thought and it too could have waited!

It doesn't take a LOT of money as you say to do a conversion. You can do one very practical with less than you think but a fool with his money will learn the hard way! Timeline? That depends on who's doing it, how many friends pitch in and who you know! Sure if you tackle it all by yourself, it will take longer but with a little help here and there, you would be surprised as to how much gets done in a quick manner!

You mention that it depends on what your bus is, as far as a hobby or an immediate use for an RV. What exactly is yours? If it's the latter, then what are you waiting for? use it! Trust me, the fuel prices are not regulated by the FMCA or your local bus club so waiting for them to come down to your level will be a long wait!

You mention the cold weather and conversion work has to stop. That I understand especially if your not in a building. I have the heat to contend with down here and the hurricanes when there are some so were kind of in the same boat (bus)!

If your only 34, single, no kids, and you spent 75k including the conversion, on a bus that you cannot afford to use YET for whatever reasons, then I envy you!  I just turned 54 yesterday, no regular work, no benifits, and no disability, no pension or retirement which if you add it all up means NO regular INCOME, (I have my means though) and no kids, but like you, I have a mortgage and a 2005 van payment along with usuall insurances! Your excuses are not valid!

I don't think mentioning money is discouraging to others. I think the way you put it from your OWN experiences on your OWN bus and your OWN conversion IS!

Next Topic!

Ace

Oh and for what it's worth...

I have less than, WAY less than 100K invested in my bus AND the conversion to date and it's been two years! Perfect? Hardly! Functional, comfortable and VERY useable!  Roll Eyes

Ace
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edvanland
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« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2006, 02:55:15 PM »

Brian:
Glad you are in the bus conversion process.  You are right most of us are above 50.  My wife and I started camping years ago.  First was on Harleys, then truck and shell, then 11 foot cab over, then  Class C, then class A, then back to a tent, then back to a class C, then to a Class A and finally a bus conversion.  We were luck in we found a 1973 MCI 7 already converted, wth a 8v92 and Allsion 740 trans for $55000.  Have since spent about $15000 more in replacing the radiators, adding a extra radiator, redoing the brakes, and air lines, and two, yes two generators.  First time we replaced the old Onan propane we went with another Onan, AKA junk, It lasted 2 years, 11 months, and 3 weeks then went south.  It had a 3 year warranty, however ONAN said the heads on the engine were not covered, nor was the armature.  This time went with a diesel and am very pleased.  I have changed some other things in the bus to fit our needs, and since my wife passed away have changed to fit my needs as I will be retiring as soon as I sell the house and then I will be fulltimming with my dog, cats, Harley and Jeep.
Don't let anyone steal your dreams, because without dreams you will become stale.  Go for it and remember you are doing what most people dream of, and a lot of us waited 30 years to do.
Sorry for the long post.
ED
MCI7
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Ed Van
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« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2006, 03:15:15 PM »

Wow....9 grand...I would get discouraged also.

I got the brakes and bearings, two rear airbags, and a couple of air leaks repaired for around $2,400 just last year.  I live in the Denver area, so the costs here, while not as expensive as the west coast, are not that cheap, it does pay to shop around.  Some shops just seem to see us busnuts coming.  I never have anything done without getting a couple of different estimates. 

fwiw,

Keith
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« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2006, 03:35:26 PM »

I think one reason why bus conversions always cost more than anticipated is because when you get started, you realize, you want to make changes along the way and your tastes change.  And, after putting so much work into a conversion, you are loathe to skimp on things and then you think you deserve the finer things like "towel warmers" (sorry Richard)...

For example, when I first started my conversion, carpet on the floor was fine.  I then decided (unfortunately after I carpeted the front of the bus, that I would rather have laminate flooring.  Big difference in price.  Then, I decided that regular furniture would not do, I wanted flexsteel...which was out of my price range, but you get the picture.   

The point is, I believe that a conversion can be done economically if you are willing to go strictly by your budget.  But, who can resist those little chrome naked woman silouettes for bumper...or, how about those great LED running lights.  After all, they are on sale for $28,000 a piece (and I only need 12).
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belfert
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« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2006, 03:39:53 PM »

Wow....9 grand...I would get discouraged also.

I got the brakes and bearings, two rear airbags, and a couple of air leaks repaired for around $2,400 just last year.  I live in the Denver area, so the costs here, while not as expensive as the west coast, are not that cheap, it does pay to shop around.  Some shops just seem to see us busnuts coming.  I never have anything done without getting a couple of different estimates. 

The costs for my brakes were much higher due to my bus being a Dina.  The same shop has done lots of MCIs for far less.  Over half my bill was for parts and the labor costs were reasonable for what was done. 

Having a Dina means a lot of stuff costs more due to the low number of Dinas on the road and the fact that many parts come from Brazil.

Brian Elfert
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belfert
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« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2006, 04:11:08 PM »

Brian, frist off let me say this. If you even thought that you would do a conversion, ANY conversion, especially at spending 60k-65k and have it done in 6 months, you would have to be out of your mind unless of course the money was for labor for someone else to do for you. That MIGHT get it done quicker!

I spent quite a few months researching bus conversions and looking at shells before I bought my shell.

Based on my research, I honestly thought I could get a usable conversion with electricity, bathroom, and bunks done in less than 6 months.  I planned to spend every free minute working on the bus to get it done.  The bus ended up at the shop for around a month total plus I didn't always work on it every day like I planned on.  The last month I did work on it every day and up to 12 hours a day on weekends once I realized I wasn't getting done.

No, I never planned to hire anyone to do the actual conversion work.  My total labor costs besides the mechanical stuff are about $400 as I gave one friend a few bucks and I hired a college kid for 12 hours of work at $10 an hour.

Quote
I'm not trying to discourage you about your purchase. I'm merely trying to open your eyes about someof your statements. You got an oil leak. There's probably 90% of the conversions out here that have a leak similar but it doesn't slow them down from being used! Youi have a door problem. Guess what? I do too but I'm using it the way it is! You had a brake problem? Hmm, me too. Probalem is i can't get to it to fix it right now but that's not keeping me from using it. I know it's minor and not a threat to me or anyone else. You stated you paid 9K for brakes and bearings but was told NOT to do it your busnut friends. Well then, why did you? Maybe it wasn't as bad as you thought and it too could have waited!

No, the busnuts told me not to attempt the work myself.  They did not say not to have the brakes done.  (Sorry if I wrote it wrong in the original post.)

When I got the bus, one front brake didn't work at all!  Both of the front brakes were worn beyond the legal limit.  All of the pads and drums had to be replaced due to wear.  The service manager showed me my tag axle bearings and said I was lucky the wheel didn't fall off as the races were pitted and bearings in bad shape.

Yes, most buses leak oil, but not a quart every hundred miles in most cases.  I would expect oil leaks with a 2 stroke, but no engine should go from no oil consumed in 2500 miles to high leakage in a few hundred miles.  The problem is fixed now.

Your door and my door are two totally different designs.  At least you have a hinge on one side.  I still went to BK's rally with my door broken and held closed with a rachet strap.  Ross was nice enough to look at it, but it still doesn't close more than 1/2 way.

Quote
You mention that it depends on what your bus is, as far as a hobby or an immediate use for an RV. What exactly is yours? If it's the latter, then what are you waiting for? use it! Trust me, the fuel prices are not regulated by the FMCA or your local bus club so waiting for them to come down to your level will be a long wait!

I wanted my bus to be ready this fall for use as an RV.  It wasn't, I got really upset at the time, and now I've moved on.  I didn't intend for this to be a three year project, but it looks like it will be.  Unless some disaster befalls me, the bus will absolutely be ready for use as an RV by spring.  All I need to do is put the seats in, fix the door, and finish some wiring and it will be usable.  (It would be usable with the door broke, but the wind noise is terrible.)

Quote
I have less than, WAY less than 100K invested in my bus AND the conversion to date and it's been two years! Perfect? Hardly! Functional, comfortable and VERY useable!  Roll Eyes

You're a far better bus converter than I if you did what you did on way less than $100k.  I'm pretty sure it would cost me well over $100k to bring my bus to the level of finish that you have in your bus.  I would like to know how you did what you did for so little if you're willing to share.

I've seen the pictures of your bus and the work is absolutely stunning!  You're much further along on the interior than I am.

Brian Elfert
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MedicNovo
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« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2006, 04:35:39 PM »

I got new kingpins and bearings for $2k and I thought that was high.  I currently have only $10k in the bus as of now and it is liveable as-is.  There is a whole lot more I want to do to it but I will do it over time.  I just wanted to get up and going with it.  Besides Im the type of person thats wants something done a different way after I just finished it another way.

$6000  -  MCI-8 Shell
$2000  -  Maintainance items (kingpins, air leaks, bearings)
$900    -  Generator and inverter
$800    -  Furniture
plus a couple hundred in Misc items along the way

Of course I did all the work myself (not maintaince items) or with friends over a case of beer.  Im probably in the same boat financially and around the same age (29).  I wish you god luck and hope you can enjoy her after the frustration.
John
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luvrbus
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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2006, 04:51:55 PM »

If you put new drums, s cams ,good lining, new bearings ,seals and slack adjusters,you can spend 7 to 9 thousand dollars easy on a good brake job i did on my Eagle but it stops
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JerryH
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« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2006, 04:52:45 PM »

Hi Brian,

I have clients who are about to embark on whole home building or remodeling ... or simply bath or kitchen remodels.  As much and as best as I try to educate the client and give them a 'heads up' as to what to expect, it often doesn't sink in and then they sometimes get frustrated or discouraged -- but closure does come.  As said before, all about expectations.

I cannot help but ask this question to one of your comments ...
Quote
I spent quite a few months researching bus conversions and looking at shells before I bought my shell.
.

Your choice of bus/shell ... knowing parts availability and your research, what heped you decide on purchasing a Dina??

And as Ace said ...
Quote
You got an oil leak. There's probably 90% of the conversions out here that have a leak similar but it doesn't slow them down from being used! Youi have a door problem. Guess what? I do too but I'm using it the way it is! You had a brake problem? Hmm, me too. Probalem is i can't get to it to fix it right now but that's not keeping me from using it. I know it's minor and not a threat to me or anyone else.

I think that's a valid point.  I've taken our coach to reputable places like Bernhard, Luke and Detroit for service and evaluations.  Luke and Bill assembled a list of 'things to do', which we prioritized.  With that in hand, we take care of the "must do's", still using and enjoying the coach until the "wanna do's" are taken care of.

It's a passion ... it's a hobby ... it's what you make of it.  If you're a perspective bus wannabe who easily gets discouraged, owning a bus might not be for you.  How many people have spent some time working on something, only to have something go awry, requiring you to re-do or start all over.  Happens more often than you like.  Again, if you're easily discouraged ...

Jerry H.
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« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2006, 05:00:56 PM »

I think this is an excellent thread for people thinking about becoming a busnut to read.

Brian, I am glad to hear that you are planning to be able to enjoy your bus conversion even before it is done.  To me that is an important part of staying motivated and in love with the beast.  One day your Dina will be everything you ever wanted it to be and more.  The process of getting there will have been both trying and rewarding.  But to someone else who may be thinking about a Dina, your experience may be beneficial in helping them to decide if a foreign built bus fits their budget and time needs.  That is part of the beauty of this forum - the sharing of experiences both good and bad.

Myself, after much research I decided on an RTS.  Then after months of looking I found exactly the one I wanted.  Now I have it, I am working on it as time and money permits.  Most days I use tools on it.  Occaisionally I use my head ... to beat against its walls (note: when choosing a surface for this activity, the tires are eaiser on the head).  Some days it's a great stress relief just to get in it and visualize what it will become and/or take it for a drive.  It is a labor of love and I enjoy every thing I do on it (ok, maybe not the head slamming).    I expect to be ready to start enjoying using it on a basic level in a couple more months.  Getting it "done" will be a couple years or more. Even then it won't be as beautifully perfect as some RTS's I have seen photos of, but it will be perfect for us and done my way and to the extent I can afford.
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Dreamscape
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« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2006, 05:10:37 PM »

Nice to see everyone is having FUN with their conversion.

It is a long a hard process if you do it yourself, but the reward is amazing.

I have had my Eagle for 3 years now. Bought it on eBay, drove it to California from Ohio. Been working on it ever since. Luckily it had been converted years ago, I just ripped out all the old and I am in the process of doing over with our own touches. It has been a lot of work but I would do it all over again. I figure with the ten grand I spent for purchase and 4 grand since, with probably another zillion grand to go, it will be a decent coach. Not glitzy, just comfortable, practical and useable. I thought it would be finished in one year. Well crap happens, working six days a week and normal stuff in life. Plus I got married to a wonderful lady who shares my excitement regarding the coach.

Sure the coach probably will never be done, that's OK with me. There is always something to do with a 36 year old coach. But I will enjoy it never the less.

I enjoy the experience building something with my hands, creating new ideas and learning from this board.

I know it can get depressing at times, just remember what a jewel you will have when she is finished.

"Git 'er done"

Paul
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« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2006, 05:36:41 PM »

As someone who has followed bus boards for a lot of years, I see the same problem coming up on a regular basis.

The person bought the bus without being aware of his technical ability and the financial resources required. To be successful in a bus conversion you have to do the majority of the work yourself. Paying commercial shop rates for a one off conversion is just not practical. High line conversions cost more than $1 million and a lot of that is in the shop rate for labor. If you are not capable of doing almost all the trades type work (and have the necessary tools) then the cost will vastly esceed the value of the completed bus.

Buses are big expensive peices of equipment to repair. If you have to take it to a commercial shop, the maintenance cost can eat you alive. If you are not familiar with mechanical systems, you will not even be aware of what needs to be fixed and that can be deadly. You can do a conversion with a Coleman stove, Portaapotty and a sleeping bag and it may serve your purpose. The mechanical condition of the bus is not an option.
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Ace
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« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2006, 06:00:08 PM »

Brian, reading over some of your recent post on other threads I came across this statement.

"Nick, I wouldn't miss my bus at Arcadia since it is basically a steel tent right now.  Luckily, the two rallies I have gone to had a bathroom available.  I won't get much done over the winter except cabinets"

Now correct me please if I read this other one wrong.

You stated below that you bought a shell for $36,500 and to date you have nearly $75,000. There's a difference of $38,500 and you still don't have a bathroom or cabinets? Even if you tore everything that was already in it out, it wouldn't cost you that much to re-do it!

Just what in the hell did you spend $29,500 on minus the $9000.00 for brakes and bearings?

You obviously have seen my conversion work so far to date and I'm sure there are others as well but to be as honest with you as one can be, I don't have NEAR that much in my whole inside conversion and I'm almost to the point of worrying about what I'll do when it gets done! I know there will always be small things to add or change but the big items are all done except the awning if I so choose to put one on.  If I spent $29,500 on MY conversion, you can bet it would be right up there with the big boys conversions with all the gadgetry and bells and whistles!

Something just doesn't add up dude!

As for doing mine for less 100k to date. It's true! You just have to know the right people and have the right friends and spend quality time with your better half doing it night after night. if it's something you really want wether it's 6 months from now or 6 years, you just have to stick with it and not worry about what it cost you NOW but my god man, almost 30K not counting the $36,500 for the shell, and your still in a steel tent?  Totally UNBELIEVABLE...

Ace
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