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FAQ2019-03-17T18:52:32+10:00

Can I build a Motorhome all by Myself?2019-03-10T18:27:26+10:00

Short answer is No.

There are several stages in a construction of a motorhome where large item must be glued, supported, lifted high and so forth… Is not about weight but more about size.  Two people is the bare minimum.  You can still do most of the other jobs yourself and maybe organise few weekends BBQ where your mates can help… ;)

And that reminds me…

Thanks Paul… Your help was invaluable…

Can I convert any type of Bus/Coach into a Motorhome?2019-03-18T12:12:53+10:00

Absolutely Not! As per NHVR Vehicle Standard Guide (VSG5)

Size and dimensions

There are strict limits on the maximum dimension of a heavy vehicle. In particular motorhomes must not exceed the regulation dimensions, including:
• maximum length: 12.5 metres
• width: 2.5 metres
• height: 4.3 metres
• rear overhang: 3.7 metres or 60% of the wheel base, whichever is lesser and including items or equipment mounted on the rear overhang
• combination length (motorhome towing a trailer) – 19.00 metres.

When measuring the dimensions of a vehicle, all equipment that is fitted to the vehicle must be included. For motorhomes common fittings that must be included when measuring dimensions include spare wheels, tow bars, bicycle or generator racks, solar panels, roof racks, bull bars and awnings.

There are also other rules, but the ones above are the first one to check when purchasing a vehicle for a conversion. If there is no need for a large carrying capacity, it also pays to remember that your registration (at least in QLD) is based on the number of axles… A three axle coach cost an average of $400-500 dollars more per year compare to the two axles standard bus/coach. Normally the tag axle will give you an extra 4000kg of carrying capacity..

Remember, there are a lots of coach for sale out there longer than 12.5 metres. . We can’t use them..

Even the ‘banana buse’ that really is a bus with a trailer in a permanent composition, it can’t be used either..

Do I need a shed or a tarp to convert a Motorhome?2019-02-25T08:55:35+10:00

No, you don’t.. unless you live in an area where it does rain often..

But not having any protection from the weather, does slow you down (particularly in summer if you live in QLD), and you need to change the way you would normally work to accommodate those weather changes and sometime, it can stop your project all together..

I do recommend some form of tarp or a gazebo (at least big enough for the working table area) as it does make things a lot easier and it can actually save you money in the long run as the project will be completed earlier..

 

Do I need insulation and if I do which is best?2019-03-10T18:42:40+10:00

This is a very good question, as too often I see people using Earthwool for insulation in conversion…

I did too once.. Then realised that all the condensation that form when there are two different temperature between inside and outside was getting absorbed by the Earthwool (that’s supposed to be non-hygroscopic) and that could promote rust. Leave it long enough in water and you will understand. I since stopped using it.

These day there are much more suitable materials especially for vehicle that have very thin walls and prone to condensation..

I use and definitely recommend XPS foam.. It does not absorb water and is very clean, light and easy to work with. It comes in sheet of different thickness and colours and it doesn’t go brittle in time like polystyrene..

How much does it cost to convert a Coach into a Motorhome?2019-03-17T17:44:32+10:00

Ah… The million dollar question…

In a nutshell, anything between $50K to $500K..

There are way too many factors to be able to give a straight answer… Purchase price, size and condition of the Coach, materials used in the conversion, quality of components and quantity of accessories… The list is endless!

One thing is for sure. You can go and do nearly the same things you would do with the $500K motorhome, with the $50K one, just not as comfortable and possibly, not for as long… Investing in being self sufficient in a motorhome (and therefore allow you for longer stay away from the main commodities) does increase the price quite a bit… Solar, Generator and bigger Tanks are just the beginning…

It is really similar to renovating a house, with the main difference that any product/s that it include the word “Camping, RV or Caravan in the description, will attract, at least, double the price of his counterpart equivalent for a House  :x

I think it safe to assume that if you have managed to put together a conversion budget, then all you have to do is Double It, you will be then, pretty close to the final “real” cost!

Raising the roof. Is it worth it?2019-02-15T22:16:46+10:00

Another popular subject among converted motorhome owners…

Raising the roof in a coach is not a difficult job, but there are important factor to keep in mind..

Some old buses/coaches are really low and they also have the full chassis running under where the bins are… If you are tall (more than 180cm) then you really can and should raise the roof.. It doesn’t add much to the final cost if you are also already re-skinning the vehicle…

With newer coaches the story is a bit different… For start the actual frame is the actual chassis, so extra care need to be taken to keep the chassis true.. Some later coaches are also already 4.1 metre high… Once you have raise the roof, you probably have already reached the maximum height allowed in Australia of 4.3 metre..

That mean, nothing else can be added on the roof (solar panels, Aircon, aerials…) So you may want to keep those factor in mind before proceeding with raising the roof..

Sometime, especially if the outside of the coach is in good conditions (no need to re-skin the vehicle) and it is one of those 4.1 metre high, it would be better (and much, much cheaper) to design the interior by utilising the centre aisle where you should have at lest 2 metres between floor and ceiling.. In some coaches the centre aisle is not existent (is at the same level as the seats), while in some other, like high deck coaches it may goes from one end to the other but at different levels…

Converted coaches with raised roof, do normally attract a higher value at reselling time, they are cooler, the feel more spacious, and allows for better size kitchen wall cabinets… On newer coaches where the frame is the actual chassis, I would strongly recommend to get the job done professionally and with all the proper documentation…

Should I go for a manual or an automatic gearbox?2019-03-10T18:47:17+10:00

I like to drive with manual gearboxes, but I can’t deny that most automatic vehicle have become extremely enjoyable to drive, especially around cities…

There are a lots of different gearbox out there ranging from the crashbox, all the way to the fully automatic, with several variation in between…

Depending whom you ask, you will get told that “real man” only drive crashbox, but that is really not the case.. On trucks, the linkage between the cabin and the gearbox is very short and therefore tends to be precise even after a million kms. On buses and coach unfortunately the gearbox is at least 10 metres behind your seat and after 20 years, all the linkages are worn out and tends to get very sloppy, making a clean gear change a lot more difficult.

The next gearbox is the one where the gears are synchronised. Much easier than the crashbox, as you don’t need any longer to match the speed of the engine with the speed of the gearbox, but again those long linkages are worn out and you may find it hard to get the correct gear in when you need it…

To alleviate this problem most gearbox manufacturers replaced those long linkages with solenoids mounted around the gearbox and all you have left is a small stick where you still need to select the gear, but the actual gear change is effectuated by the solenoid making it virtually impossible to miss a gear… There are several variation of those gearboxes, even ones where you don’t need to press the clutch other than for stop and start and they are all pretty easy to learn…

Lastly, we have fully Automatic gearboxes like the US Allison or the German ZF… Here like in a automatic car you just push the button and off you go… Simple as that…

If this is you first time driving a long vehicle, I would start from Automatic, so that you can concentrate on the drive, and work your way down to the crashbox if you have to…

If fear of expensive repair is in your mind, the crashbox is the best bet as there is not much that can go wrong with them.  That’s why they are still so popular..

That’s not to say that the automatic gearboxes do break very often, but they do rely on being serviced regularly to work well…

Should I keep the original windows?2019-03-17T18:06:10+10:00

Glass is not a really good thermal insulator and in nearly all Coaches they are large, heavy, and fixed… Therefore it always make sense to actually replace them with fibreglass or composite panels plus good insulation, where they are not need it and proper RV double insulated windows where you need an opening..

It goes without saying that, by replacing the fix windows, you are also making a “real” conversion and therefore adding, value, functionality and comfort to your vehicle…

In some coaches, I often notice people keeping the front side first two windows as they do add visibility and interior light while driving..

What ever you do, do not keep the OEM windows in the bath/shower area. That’s asking for trouble and it can lead to a virtually impossible to sell RV!

What brand of Bus/Coach should I use for my conversion?2019-03-17T22:58:57+10:00

You may don’t like my answer here but, again, based on my experience I would stick to any European brand as far as chassis. As engines goes, there is a bit more room to move.. Volvo, Mercedes, MAN, DAF, Mack, Caterpillar, Scania and Cummins..

Maybe looking at the brand map of workshop available in Australia could help influence your decision, especially if you are not mechanically minded..

Chinese vehicle, while looking very good when new and using quality engine and gearboxes for other manufacturer, in my experience don’t offer quality chassis!

Maybe in the future, as Chinese quality manufacturer constantly improves, this will not be an issue any more. If you really have to go for a Chinese vehicle, make sure you take it for at least one hour driving test and not just in the city but also on the Hwy. That is where the nasty surprise normally do tend to show up. Pay special attention at how the steering box behave (as in, not moving the steering wheel and still being able to go constantly straight) and look in the mirrors at the white lines on the road to see if it track straight (you want the same distance between the wheel and the white line on both side front and back)..

What brand or kind of Air Conditioning is best for a coach?2019-03-10T19:52:45+10:00

This is not an easy question to answer, but I’ll try to point out some relevant factors not always obvious at first.

You have two type of A/C for RV. The roof mounted ones and the under bed/couch mounted one. Obviously the under bed/couch, if space is available, is a better choice for several reasons.

It helps to keep the weight low down, easier to service (no need to access the roof), they offer more ventilations options, it keeps the vehicle max height lower and they could/should last longer..

But, if you are into RV for free camping, then there is a problem with A/C units.. power!

You will need power to run them and not just a bit. At this stage it is still not feasible to run an A/C all night on batteries. The small A/C designed for RV, use as much power as three full size fridges, 1 to 1.5 kWh, making it virtually impossible. The generator is the only option, but even that at night could be an issue..

There is another factor to bear in mind regarding A/C. The more you use it, the more you depend on it. It is a vicious circle..

Personally I don’t like A/C units in RV, mainly because of their cost/performance, so I would concentrate on better insulation, better ventilation and perhaps few simple fan locate in strategic location.

Lately, I have seen people using portable A/C in RV and for a third of the price, same performance, it does make sense. Considering that you may use it 15- 20 time in a year, having a portable one, it may do the trick..

What size engine do I need for a good Motorhome conversion?2019-03-10T18:59:28+10:00

Here in Australia, the majority of bus and coaches are powered by Diesel, except for the council buses where they have these days, large number running on LPG. Diesel and LPG have both cons and pro but there no denial that in Australia Diesel is more readily available especially in remote areas…

I’ll leave the choice of fuel to you but I think is far more important to concentrate on the actual power of the engine…

Most twin axles buses/coaches will have an average of between 210 and 290 HP, while triple axles and/or large coaches could have as much as 550HP…

This is just a guideline but I would recommend 18-20HP for  every ton of weight in whatever vehicle you choose…

So for a 20 tons coach 360-400HP would be nice. It also pay to remember that a large displacement engine will normally use less fuel for the same given weight as it doesn’t have to labour as hard as a smaller engine would. New engine have come a long way and these day you can find smaller size like a 7 litre engine for a 16 tons vehicle.. But you wont find those engine in the 20-25 years old vehicles… Back in those day, 12 and 13 litre engine were the norm…

Get an underpowered vehicle and you will regret it every time you drive up hill or stop at the servo for fuel…

What voltage should I choose for my Motorhome2019-03-17T18:10:30+10:00

I did wrote a Blog about this subject back in the early days, and I don’t think that much has changed since…

If after reading the blog, there are still some uncertainty, then I would say in few word that:

  • While 12 Volts seems to have plenty of appliance and accessories available, they are very expensive, and not always of good quality..
  • 12 Volts system required very large expensive cables and massive amperage fuses..
  • 240 Volts appliance and accessories are getting better and better at using less power, they are cheaper to buy and available everywhere..

In my opinion, the best solution at the moment would be to keep the existing vehicle voltage (either 12 or 24 Volts) for the simple, basic things like lights and driving fans and use 240 Volt for everything else…

What’s better for an RV conversion.. A Bus or a Coach?2019-03-17T18:54:27+10:00

It depends.. They both do offer pros and cons.. I just listed the pros of each, as the cons are obviously the opposite for each other..

Bus

  • Cheaper to buy
  • Lighter
  • Faster acceleration
  • MR Licence (only two axles)
  • Lower entrance (no many steps)
  • Better turning radios (most of the times)
  • Lower roof and still comfortable high ceiling
  • Flat floor

Coach

  • Bigger fuel tank
  • Can carry more weight
  • Better comfort at high speed
  • Plenty of storage room in the underfloor bins
  • Higher driving position
  • Easier engine access (most of the times)
  • Hwy diff or better diff ratio for Hwy use

You can see from these lists that both vehicle can be suitable for conversion.. There are as many bus converted on the road as there are coaches. You need to consider your requirements along with what each chassis does offer..

What’s the fuel consumption of a large coach?2019-03-17T18:15:53+10:00

The average fuel consumption does and can vary based on driving technique, weight and road conditions but the average of most coaches is between 3 to 4 Km per litre..

It can easily drop below 3 or even 2 if there are serious problem with the engine, driving in the wrong gear, revving the engine unnecessarily and to high or a lack of filters maintenance for example..

Just for the record, keep in mind that the Mitsubishi Rosa and the Toyota Coaster, while being a third of the size of a coach, they only average between 6 to 7.5 km per litre..

What’s the most important thing to look for when purchasing a bus/coach?2019-04-11T12:18:00+10:00

Here people tend to have different opinions based on their knowledge & Skills…

Truth is, that is a lot cheaper to rebuild an engine, even if you are not a mechanic, that to re-skin an entire vehicle, once you found rust… We are talking about rust that has already start to destroy the sub frame here, not the superficial rust..

So, based on my experience, I strongly suggest to pay more attention to the sub frame than the drivetrain and Engine..

The sub frame is not the expensive part to replace. Is the labour involved to get there and to put everything back. Re-skinning also do take considerable time, so pay a bit more for a younger vehicle, that should be built of fibreglass instead of zincalume, can save you a lot more later on down the track..

Average cost for an Engine rebuilt in a coach (in chassis rebuilt) can set you back up to $15,000 or $20,000 and in the worse case scenario a month of time (you can also buy new/reconditioned engines for around the same money, but that does not include installation)..

The average body workshop for coach/bus , will easily charge you around the $35-40,000+ for a rust removal on the main frame and a good re-skin job..

You need also to remember that there are a lot more mechanical workshop around than body workshop that deal with coaches/buses re-skin or rebuilt. It could mean months and months of waiting for  your coach re-skinning job to begin, and off course, you will have to play their game.

Fewer body workshops, less competition = higher prices..

Around the SEQ we have Coachworks that are pricey but the workmanship is excellent and they also tend to work fast. There is another company in Logan Village called Transfab. I had a very bad experience with them, (or perhaps I should say lack of, considering that I waited 6 months for a job that never happened) so, if you are serious about your vehicle and you do have a life, don’t bother with Transfab..

Which colour should I pick for my new motorhome?2019-03-17T18:26:17+10:00

If you look around, you will quickly realised that the majority or motorhome and caravan are white.. There is a good reason for it..

I did a test once in January on a beautiful day with two composite panel laying on the grass, one white and the other one black. Then with the help of a laser thermometer I checked the surface temperature..

At 8 am they were both sitting at 16°…

At 10am, white on 20°, black on 31°…

At 11am, white on 43°, black on 55°…

At 12am, white on 65°, black on 78°…

Both got extremely hot and I just couldn’t touch them any longer, but yes the black was a fraction hotter

Clearly, white or any bright colour are the best choice… The material also play a massive role in retaining heat… If  you can, go for fibreglass as it does offer the best of both world and it will not required as much insulation as composite aluminium or Zincalume panels.

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