Mary Johanssen
August 12, 2023

A Common-Sense Bus Conversion (Part 2 of 2)

Editor’s Note: In part one of A Common Sense Bus Conversion, Mary went over common things in a bus conversion that can cause safety concerns, lug nuts not being tightened enough, stuff being built off the sides, rear, and top of bus conversions. She also talked about mirror usage and why they should remain on the buses. Stick with us and learn more about how you can make your bus safer to travel in.

The nightmare conversions some people display on social media don’t end with hanging items off the outside. The inside and underneath can be equally bad. Underneath, many like to install holding tanks and other items that hang below the bottom of the bus skirt.

Not only does something hanging low look ugly, but it can also grind on obstacles such as steel level railroad crossings. Then there are low-growing shrubs that can rip things fastened underneath the bus right off.

One of the popular things people like to do is to mount waste tanks under the bus behind the back wheels. That’s the area most likely to be scraped and most affected by bouncing, so anything mounted there has to be very well secured or even have a skid plate attached or it is very likely just to get bounced out of place.

A School bus was hit from the rear. Note that the car went under the bus.

A School bus was hit from the rear. Note that the car went under the bus.

Having a big waste tank bouncing about with the weight continually shifting, left, right, forward, back, up, and down is hardly conducive to good steering and even more – is likely to break loose or fracture and deluge the unsuspecting innocent soul behind with its delightful aromatic contents. I’m pretty sure that person would not enjoy the Vindaloo curry over rice, washed down with a little red wine as much as the driver did – at least not the second time around!

The majority of collisions with buses are from the rear. School buses have a high bumper so that any collision with a car directs the car underneath. A waste tank under the rear affords a car a very nice cushion to break their impact but the big problem is that with a wrecked waste tank, it’s going to be hard to continue on your trip and can be considered hazardous waste in most places which could cost thousands of dollars to clean up. Best put the waste tank elsewhere and keep the area behind the wheels free.

Now let’s move on to the actual construction of a bus and Newton’s First Law of motion. “A body in motion stays in motion”. What happens when something that is moving, stops suddenly? Inertia – the loose stuff and poorly secured stuff will continue the forward motion.

A Skoolie crashed and caught on fire.

A Skoolie crashed and caught on fire.

When I bought my bus – with the previous owner’s conversion already in it – I had to strip it all out. A big cabinet sat on the curbside of the bus that had no securement whatsoever. On the driver’s side, there were several steel-framed beds bolted together and secured by two small L-brackets and a single bolt. That would have kept it in place while driving but not in an accident.

The beds would have become projectiles hurling toward anyone in the driver’s area, or the passenger area if the bus hit an object on the right side of the bus. The driver and passenger of the bus generally sit in the front where all objects end up that is not secured down in an accident. Let that sink in when you are building your bus.

The whole aim is to go beyond just securing things in place during normal driving. The aim is to keep things in place in the event of a catastrophic accident. That means securing microwaves, refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, and toilets – especially all the stuff that is really big needs to be very well secured.

If it’s not possible to secure it, it should not be in a bus conversion. If it’s temporarily secured, after a few sessions of securing and un-securing it will soon be forgotten. Anything that takes time to prep before moving may be missed as time goes on unless you are diligent with a checklist.

If just one item in your bus is loose, it can cannon into something else, knock that loose and the weight of both add to the weight of the third, breaking that loose too until eventually a single item from the back can arrive at the front with the poor driver and/or co-pilot crushed to death.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion is F=MA, where F (Force) is determined by the Mass (weight) of an object, times the acceleration (or speed you are moving) when you hit something in front of you.

Not a good way to leave this world! The way women should leave this world is surrounded by a large, loving family. The way men should leave this world is with a gun blazing in each hand and the blood of their enemies dripping on the ground.

Now let’s talk about the really hot item this year – the potbellied stove. In a word… No. Just say No. Why introduce something so difficult to secure and so hazardous into a bus conversion? It won’t secure well, will be a hazard in a catastrophic stop, or indeed just a mild bump. Any hot ashes will be spread everywhere and ashes can stay hot for days, igniting anything flammable in your bus and even on the outside. If you are incapacitated you could quickly become a crispy critter if no one is around to remove you from the bus.

In normal conditions, spits, and sparks from a wood stove, especially if you burn pine, can cause a fire inside and outside of your bus if there’s no spark arrester on the stovepipe – which I’ve never seen anybody install on a bus.

As far as insurance – the insurers would be running for the hills over that one so good luck finding an insurance company and if you do, be sure to calculate the cost of the insurance rider for your wood stove when you are calculating the savings of burning wood in your bus. If you fail to mention that you have a wood stove in your bus, and it catches fire because of the wood stove, then you may be liable for all damages to your bus and anything else that burned up around your bus.

Propane is another highly flammable fuel that needs to be taken seriously. Just stick with portable appliances that run off internal propane bottles to minimize risk. If those leak, they can be replaced. There’s no big propane tank to carry which can turn into a bomb if it gets punctured or your bus catches on fire.

Water heating can be done over a propane stove and cooking is best done outside to avoid getting steam in the bus. If you travel through tunnels, you may also be required to turn your propane tank off which can be a hassle.

Small portable gas cylinders are small and easily obtainable. For safety, they can be carried in a small, well-ventilated compartment under the bus. Also, remember that propane gas settles to the bottom of a compartment, so if you are mounting them in your bus, be sure to cut a hole in the bottom of your propane compartment for the gasses to escape.

Also, all propane bottles should be in a cabinet built just for them with a hole in the bottom and not in a compartment with batteries, heaters, electrical appliances, or anything that could cause a spark.

What happens in an accident situation? Amidst the chaos, flame, and smoke of a bad crash on interstate 666, the driver sits next to his jackknifed bus with cars blazing away as far as the eye can see. Systematically, the police are looking for survivors and trying to keep ahead of the Grim Reaper who is speedily collecting souls.

The insurance agent teleports in from headquarters to assist the bus driver that was five vehicles back from the epicenter – which was caused by an inattentive driver reaching in the passenger’s footwell for her phone on which he was doing a Facebook Live commentary on the bad driving they’ve seen up ahead.

Looking at his notebook the agent peers quizzically at the bus, recognizing it as a bus. The agent checks the VIN and sees it was a bus but some fiddling had taken place to retitle the bus as a motorhome. The agent checks against known motorhome manufacturers – not on the list.

The agent sees stuff hanging outside the bus beyond the legal width of the bus, or a pile of appliances sitting in the driver’s seat and says I’m sorry sir, the agent tells the driver, you’re not covered. But. But, but, spluttered the driver, you insured it. The agent looks severely at the driver – you conned us into thinking it was a motorhome when it’s a bus. Sorry, you are not covered.

This accident shows the importance of leaving the roof escape hatches intact. In a rollover, this may be your only way out.

This accident shows the importance of leaving the roof escape hatches intact. In a rollover, this may be your only way out.

That is why some insurance companies require photos of your bus before they will insure it. They are looking at what was added, how and where it was added and how safely the conversion was done. Did the converter take into consideration anything that would cause an accident or would make an accident worse than it would have been if everything was secured properly? If anything was added after the photos were sent in which may have caused personal injury or damage to your bus, you may not be covered.

Hearing that the driver was not covered and classed as uninsured, the policeman breaks into a broad grin and takes out his stack of tickets, and licks his finger. On this day, the policeman gets to make an arrest and you may spend the night in a very secure hotel.
Don’t try to retitle and hoodwink the insurers. It doesn’t work despite what you’ve heard online. Those that did are now not insuring bus conversions.

And why? Because of the vast number of really appallingly bad conversions out there. Don’t add to that. Do a good conversion. Continually think of what may happen if you have to make a sudden stop. It happens all of the time. Be an alert driver and always look ahead and keep a safe distance from the car ahead of you.

But what about “professional” conversions? Well, there aren’t any. Shocking? Well, all those “professional” converters are just rank amateurs that manage to spin a buck by persuading others to part with money for an already converted bus. From what I’ve seen of most of those “professional” conversions, they’re not vehicles I would feel safe driving and I am a professional driver!
Some people must have 120V – why? What purpose does it serve? My opinion is, if you want a microwave, hairdryer, electric shower, induction stove, etc. then you want an apartment, not a bus. Buses are meant to be primitive and not supposed to be glamped up.

We buy buses because we want to travel and don’t want to spend the money on a motorhome. 120V is not necessary in a bus conversion, it is a luxury and costs extra money, but some people like the comfort and are willing to spend extra money for it.

Two systems exist – 12V and 120V. Many people seem to want to run household appliances and go in for lots of wiring, generators, and so on. That to me is unnecessary. It’s about as nuts as the vast numbers of solar panels and batteries you see on some conversions now. Let’s cut with the overpower production and overpower consumption. It’s not needed, it costs money, and is bad for the environment

My big gripe with the 120V system is some people wire their bus like a house with three solid core wires. The solid wire should never be used in a bus as it will eventually fracture over time as a result of flexing from bouncing down the road and can cause a spark and hence a fire. Instead, use stranded wire as it is more flexible so it doesn’t fracture. Marine stranded wire is best as it is sealed in a rubber shield.

I’d say the biggest gripe is that people overproduce and overuse power. Sure – my bus has 120V but it’s only available when I plug into shore power. The rest of the time it isn’t needed. It really isn’t needed when it is plugged in because the things running off it – the fridge, microwave, slow cooker, and electric heater fan are non-essentials, and are luxuries in my opinion.

Sure – the heater fan is needed but only in severely cold weather. In cold weather, one is hardly ever in a bus but rather in a house or apartment unless you are a full-timer. But if one is, then find somewhere to plugin!

How much power do you need? Really! My bus conversion has two 10W solar panels producing all the power that I need for my door lock control. The door lock control is the only thing on 24x7. The essentials are ventilation (not A/C), lighting, water pumps, and (these days) phone/tablet charging. How much power does all that use? Not much.

Ventilation using fans can easily be replaced by ventilation via such simple things as opening windows and having window screens in place. Lighting can be replaced by using battery-powered hurricane lamps – assuming one can be found that doesn’t glare and which produces enough light.

Quit looking at lead-acid batteries. They’re just junk that lasts a few years if that.   Instead, spend the money and get lithium. Sure – it’s costly but it lasts longer and it charges faster. They also weigh a lot less. I’m just about to toss out my two, failing one-year-old lead-acid deep cycle batteries in favor of a single lithium battery.

Bottom line, you can convert a bus that is safe, energy-efficient, and is a pleasure to live and travel in. I have seen the photos of stick-n-staple motorhomes that have been involved in an accident or simply were blown over on their side in a stiff wind and I am shocked to know they would even insure those boxes of wood and fiberglass.

When they get in an accident, they send in a bucket loader to clean them up. With a bus, you have a fighting chance. Just be smart with your conversion. If you want to see what happens in an accident in a factory-built motorhome, a travel trailer, or 5th wheel, take a look at some of the photos of accidents on the BCM Facebook page such as the one below and you will be convinced a bus conversion is the only way to travel.

Stick-N-Staple rollover accident.

Stick-N-Staple rollover accident.

Article written by Mary Johanssen
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