When we first started dreaming of full-time road-tripping we imagined we would buy a school bus to convert into an RV. After doing a lot of research watching a ton of youtube videos and talking to bus mechanics, we decided that the right bus for us was the MCI D3. We narrowed our search down to the 40ft bus with a Detroit Diesel Engine and an Allison Transmission.
MCI buses are most commonly recognized from their use in the Greyhound fleet. While we loved the look of the vintage MCI’s from the 70’s, after talking to a lot of bus mechanics they all recommended that we get a modern engine where the parts would be readily available, which is the case with the D3. Not only are parts available for the D3, but many diesel shops and most military mechanics have worked on these engines.
We did lots of online searches all over the country for our dream bus and thought we had found the perfect bus in Ohio. So Don flew out to look at a Silver 1995 D3. What we quickly learned is that rust is a major issue in Midwest and East Coast buses and something we wanted to avoid. This bus had a lot of tell-tale signs of rust on the exterior and bubbling in the paint job. If there is rust on the exterior, who knows what you will find once you start pulling the bus apart. So we added to our search criteria to look for a West Coast bus with as little visible rust as possible and service records so we would know exactly what work had been done on the bus. This too meant increasing our budget for the bus, but it felt like it was worth it in the long run.
After searching all over the country, we found our bus just a little drive from Los Angles in Long Beach, CA! It’s a 1996 MCI D3 that checked off everything on our “must have” list. We hired a bus mechanic to check it out and he could not believe what good condition the bus was in. He recommended a few things that needed replacing and service, but that we should get this bus! So we did! Our excitement levels were through the roof, suddenly things got real. It was at the top of our budget but had been kept in excellent condition and we had a huge folder with all the service records from Day 1 on this bus. We were able to negotiate the cost down a little and the seller agreed to take out the seats for us, which was extremely helpful with our plans for the immediate future.
Preparing to Travel Cross-Country
We started drastically minimizing our belongings for our new tiny living lifestyle. Some things we plan to store for our future home, but that too we wanted to keep minimal. We don’t have anywhere to work on converting the bus in Los Angeles, so we decided to pack up and head east to stay with Don’s parents in Indiana. The family has a lot of land and space for us to work this conversion. With minimizing our belongings we figured…..we can probably pack all of our moving boxes into the bus (cross-fingers!), instead of hiring movers, and glamp in the bus as we move to the Midwest.
Things we did to get the bus ready to travel across the country:
- We got the recommended services from our mechanic - oil and transmission fluid change, replace bulbs in brake lights and some adjustments to the air system.
- We tried to give the bus a good cleaning! Once the seats were removed, we saw just how dirty the floors really are after 20+ years of transporting people.
- We put up temporary curtains to block light and insulation to keep the cold out. We plan to sleep in the bus while traveling to the midwest and in some of the states on our journey, it could get down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night. We used a combo of reflectix and felt cut out to the size of the windows and super strong magnets to hold them to the metal frame of the bus.
- We added a RV specific Navigation System that you input the size of your vehicle and it figures out the best route to take so you don't run into any overpasses you can't fit underneath etc.
- While your side mirrors are your friend while driving a bus, being able to see directly behind you is definitely helpful. We first purchased a 4 camera wired system . But our attempt to install the cameras was a failure as we were not able to run cables all the way to the back of the bus. We opted for a simple 1 camera wireless back up system that we were able to install easily in less than an hour.
Another obstacle was converting the bus title from a commercial vehicle. Our research taught us that the easiest way to convert your title is to have a licensed VIN verifier sign off on your conversion and then bring that into the California DMV.
Even after easily getting the proper VIN verification it still took 2 days and 3 DMV visits to find a DVM manager that was able to help us get the title converted in their system. So now our bus is titled as a Motorhome, which is classified as a personal automobile or “Car House” in the state of California.
There’s no better way to learn than by experience and we are learning a lot about the bus already. So with enthusiasm and a little trepidation, we leap into this new adventure!
We learn very quickly to become minimalists, pack up and say a bittersweet goodbye to LA.
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A reflective insulation consisting of two outer layers of 96-percent reflective film, bonded to two layers of heavy gauge polyethylene bubbles
Made of Strongest Magnetic Material! Strong Holding Power, Holding Power is not Less than 12 lb per Magnet with Direct Touch and Direct Pull.
Garmin RV 770 Navigation System
We chose the Garmin RV 770 NA LMT-S RV GPS for it's RV specific routing and road warnings. It has a Smartphone Link app to program in destinations and access to live traffic, basic weather and more. Hands-free features include Bluetooth calling, smart notifications and voice-activated navigation.
Back up camera
Quick and simple setup -Receiver built-in the monitor, You just hook the transmitter and power supply to them, They will transport video signals auto.About the only hard part is getting power to the rear view camera. You need to tap into the backup or tail lights of your vehicle or trailer for 12V or it works with 24V as well.
MCI - Wikipedia
Detroit Diesel 60 - Wikipedia
Allison Transmission - Wikipedia
Looking forward to seeing you on the bus
Thanks Gregory! We can’t wait either!