Buses, shuttles, and vans have batteries, starters, alternators, brakes, cooling systems, and various fluids and filters that require regular maintenance, just like any other vehicle. Being properly educated on some of these basic maintenance tasks can go a long way towards ensuring the reliability of your fleet.
Buses can and do wear out from extensive daily use and often overlooked maintenance. Interior, exterior, and engine components need to be fixed or replaced, and fluids need to be changed regularly. Most fleet vehicles are operated daily, so it is imperative to be sure each is safe and roadworthy. With proper maintenance, your bus will provide you many years of service, regardless of what you use it for. If your school owns a bus, shuttle, or van, here are some routine maintenance checks to keep it operating smoothly:
Check for fluid leaks and levels.
Your bus relies on a variety of fluids to keep the engine cool, powered, and well-lubricated. Sometimes, though, you find these fluids in a puddle underneath your equipment instead of where they belong. Certain fluid leaks require immediate attention and repair, while others aren’t as quite as serious. Inspect underneath the vehicle for any sign of leakage. Check your fluid levels, particularly your coolant and oil. The cooling system should be full and contain the proper percentage of antifreeze. Oil should be clean and in the operating range on the dipstick. Improper levels or incorrect fluid types can lead to engine damage. Visually inspect the engine compartment—to include all lines, piping, and hoses—prior to operating.
Check exterior lights.
Exterior lighting is a critical element on buses to help make sure you are easily visible and can properly signal your direction of travel. So, it is essential to look over the lights, indicators, and tail lamps thoroughly. Make sure all exterior lights are illuminated and working properly. Accidents are more likely to happen if exterior lighting is malfunctioning.
Before operating your vehicle, check that all tires are inflated to the proper pressures. Direct sunlight and drastic temperature changes can significantly affect air pressure or even damage tires. If you live in a particularly cold climate, checking your tire pressure regularly is even more important. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, the tires will typically lose 1-2 pounds of air pressure.
Don’t limit your inspection to the tires. Visually check the wheels, as well. Look for cracks, bends, or other damage, and check for loose lugs.
Complete brake inspections are essential to keeping buses running safely. Lining condition, rotor thickness, brake hose and brake fluid condition are examples of service-related items that need to be inspected regularly. However, a quick visual inspection can provide a lot of insight into the condition of your braking system. Check for excessive brake dust, noticeably worn rotors, or obvious signs of overheating.
Inspect drive belts and hoses.
A belt or hose failure can cause an overheated engine, loss of power steering, and loss of the electrical charging system. Look for cracks, tears or burns. Also check belt tension.
Check all dashboard gauges, instrument switches, and controls.
Also check your wipers, service, door, light, and signal indicators to be sure everything is in working order.
Inevitably, even with regular daily inspections, components will fail. Once your fleet begins to age, the service and repair of your buses may be more than you can handle on your own. This is a good time to determine if you need to enlist the help of a professional shop with skilled mechanics, or possibly look into replacing your vehicle if the repairs would be cost prohibitive.
UPGRADING YOUR BUS
If you’re looking to upgrade your bus, chances are you already have an idea of what you need in mind. Often, though, that mental image of the perfect bus for you is quite a bit different from the bus you actually need. You have to consider every aspect of how the bus will be used, while also keeping in mind restrictions such as budgets, regulations, and personal preferences. The right bus is out there for you; you just have to know what you’re looking for. You can be sure you’re searching for the right bus, as long as you consider these things first:
There is no getting around it; mass transportation vehicles are large expenditures, and budget is always a deciding factor in the hunt for the right bus. Affordable lease, lease-purchase, and financing programs are available. The key is knowing what works best for your school.
Buses may not have the style of a sports car, but appearance is just as important to bus owners and fleet providers as it is to other vehicle owners. You want to present the best image possible to the community and passengers, especially when it comes to comfort. Buses can be equipped with all sorts of amenities, and passengers will notice the small details such as “side sliders,” which can help create more room or overhead storage to create more legroom. Beverage holders are even an option.
Even if you aren’t using your bus to transport students, safety is the highest concern in mass transportation. In the past, 15-passenger vans were popular for moving smaller groups of people, but they are remarkably unsafe, and several legislators have been working to phase them out. Meanwhile, buses of all sizes are specifically being designed to safely carry passengers, with a lower center of gravity to prevent rolling, and dual rear wheels add to stability. Even if your group is small, they are safer in a bus than most other vehicles.
Will you need a special license to drive a bus? In most states, the answer is yes; however, this varies from state to state. In most areas of the United States, you are required to hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) or a Class C license. If you plan to transport more than 10 passengers in your vehicle, it is best to check your local laws and regulations.
Lastly, there is always the issue of regulations that have to be addressed. Commercial buses are frequently less regulated, but there are extensive legislative restrictions and unique school district regulations that need to be researched and followed if you are operating a school and transporting students.
This information is courtesy of American Bus Sales, which specializes in selling renovated and customized buses and shuttles and buying quality used buses for sale across the country, www.americanbussales.net.