Sol The Sunchaser

Is Our Engine Ruined? Possible Disaster Getting The Skoolie Home

On the way home I stopped at the first gas station I came across to fill up the bus and take a look around. The gas attendent thought it was pretty awesome that we were planning on converting it, and it put a smile on my face because I was thinking the same thing. Back on the road, and for two hours I concentrated on keeping the school bus between the lines. Not that it was hard, it was just different. Air brakes were a new experience, and the bus has an incredibly short wheelbase, so it turns on a dime. The motor is governed at 2500 RPM, so it will never be a speed demon, but it did great. I stayed between 50 and 55 the whole way, even up most of the hills. She is a fierce lady, and her throaty roar as she climbs hills lets you know that she means business.

I made it back to Eugene just in time to pick up our youngest kids from school in their very own bus. I stopped by the house to grab Lindsay as she had been able to zoom ahead in the Saab, and we headed out to pick up our first grader. On the way there the bus was still running like a champ, all of the gauges were right where they were supposed to be. We stopped on a particularly steep hill, and the smell of burning oil wafted thru the cabin. An oddity, but not unexpected from an older bus. It was obvious that we needed to seal the doghouse better, but that is all we thought at the time. We grabbed our youngest, and he was so freaking happy. There is nothing more exciting for a little boy than having his own bus. Off we went to pick up our sixth grader, and we got the same smell coming up the other side of that hill. A bit concerning, but again the gauges were all in the clear, so it didn’t freak us out. Our sixth grader was just as excited, and he came running when he saw us. We headed home, got the bus parked and opened up the doghouse to see what was going on.

When we left Coos Bay, the engine was clean with a full pan of motor oil. As I raised the doghouse and looked at the engine, my heart sank. I could have cried, right then and there. The entire top of the engine was coated in oil. The rear valve cover gasket was the worst, and you could see where it had been blown all over the back of the engine. I crawled under the bus, and there was oil everywhere. How much oil had we lost? I wiped off the underside of the engine as best I could, to see if I could pinpoint a leak but nothing was obvious. I want back into the bus and checked the oil.

There was no oil showing on the dipstick at all. I didn’t know that my heart could sink any further, but it did. Lindsay and I looked at each other, and at the engine, and we just sat in silence for a bit. What do you say, when you finally try to make your dream a reality, only to find it bleeding to death in your hands? We do what we have always done, and we rallied. Talked about the possibilities, what we had read and researched to this point. I ran to Napa before they closed, as they were having a sale on heavy duty diesel engine oil and picked up two gallons. I ran home, leveled the bus and got to work.

It turns out the bus was five quarts low. Five quarts. Looking at the engine, the only thing we could figure is that the fill port cap had not been put on properly, as the gasket was shot it would have been sputtering out the whole way home, with the problem worsening on the hills. There are a lot of hills between Coos Bay and Eugene. We had wanted to take the bus to our local Cummins shop anyways, but now it was a necessity, no matter what it was going to cost us. Had we ruined our engine? The possibility rocked us to the core, we had done everything we thought was right, and we still might have a thirty-foot paperweight sitting in our driveway.

The next day, I called Cummins and set up an appointment at 9am Friday morning. They had a two-hour minimum charge, and they would look at the engine, drivetrain and chassis and hopefully give us some answers. Insert 24 hours of waiting here. Trying to stay hopeful in the face of the very real possibility that we might have ruined our bus before we even had our first adventure. We had some other pretty crappy things happening in other parts of our life at the same time, and it felt like a waterfall of failure was pouring from the sky.

I drove the bus over to Cummins Friday morning, as prepared as I could be to face the worst news, but really hoping for the best. I parked her outside, told the guys inside what was happening and sat down to wait. The first hour passed. The shop manager came out to talk to me about a couple things they had seen. They wanted to run dye thu the oil to help pinpoint leaks, and I said go for it. More time passed, and then we passed the second hour. I walked out to the garage to see how things were going. The shop manager was there, and the tech that was working on our bus. They agreed that the oil probably came out of the fill cap, as there was really no other possibility. They had a few more things to look over, and they were finishing up looking under the bus with a blacklight for more oil leaks, but they were about done. I went back inside to wait for them to finish up, to talk about the full report.

The shop manager came in, and our motor was fine. It was actually in very solid shape, with only a small leak at the back of the oil pan, nothing to worry about just something to keep an eye on. The fluorescent dye also stays in the system for a long time, so we can run a black light over it ourselves for the next few months to see if oil has appeared anywhere else. Relief flowed over me like a wave, the engine was fine. A new engine can run over ten thousand dollars installed, so this really was a best-case scenario. We didn’t get off the hook entirely though. The rear output shaft on the transmission has a slight leak, and the front U-Joint is worn along with the slip yoke at the carrier bearing. They do not work on Allison transmissions that old, but they gave us the number of the local Allison shop to get a quote on that. She had also started pulling to the right, and Cummins recommended a place to have the alignment done. So, a few more things to get fixed up but nothing that bad, and nowhere near the cost of an engine. Even though the inspection had run closer to three hours they still honored the two-hour quote. With the inspection, shop materials and the UV dye, it ended up costing us $298. Not bad at all.

Some folks are afraid to talk about the mistakes, the bad ideas and the bad luck that happens. That if they talk about it, it will make them seem less. We are all just trying, and nothing ever goes as smoothly as we would like. We dodged a bullet this time, but it could just as easily have been a blown engine if we hadn’t checked the oil when we got it home. It was time to smile at our good fortune however, and as luck would have it if I made good time, I could pick the boys up from school and put a big smile on their faces.

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