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Old 03-23-2012, 12:08 AM   #1
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Default GMC and toterhomes, tell me the full story

I have been reading a lot about getting my own toterhome built/buy-used. Looking through online used toterhomes, I see a lot of GMCs( non-class 8). I wanted to know more on these models. It appears these models have a CAT engine, that is a plus point, what else do you think is making these so popular? just trying to get some insight....
I like to have a crew cab ….

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Old 04-04-2012, 08:52 AM   #2
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I'm guessing you're talking about the Kodiak/Topkick chassis? 6500/5500? I would suspect they're popular because they are more heavy duty than say a E450 class C. And, GM actively supplied this chassis to a couple of high volume builders. I've heard they are very good chassis. I've never seen one made with a crew cab but that would be kind of neat. I'm pretty sure GM quit supplying to the rv builders now though. I think International is building a chassis that some rv builders are using. But if you're looking at used I'm sure there are some good ones out there. I'd make sure you could get one for much less money than a full class 8 truck conversion if you buy one. Because for the money I think you might be better off with a class 8 t/c, just from seeing how reasonably you can buy a used one these days.

'03 Freightliner FL112, 295" wheel base, with '03 United Specialties 26' living quarters, single screw, Cat C12 430 h/p 1650 torque, Eaton 10speed , 3.42 rear axle ratio
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Old 04-05-2012, 07:06 PM   #3
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I have a 2003 GMC Topkick cab/chassis sitting at my shop awaiting time to do a conversion. The Chevy equivalent is the Kodiak, same truck different grill. The current generation is the 2003 up until GM stopped making them in I think 2009. They come in 4500, 5500, and 6500 varieties. The 4500 is an overgrown pickup chassis with 19.5 tires, the 5500 has a little heavier chassis/suspension but still 19.5 tires, and the 6500 steps up to 22.5 tires and beefier chassis. All 3 share the same body, and come in regular cab, extended cab and crew cab. The regular cab trucks are very common, crew cabs a little harder to find, usually only used on western hauler setups for horse trailers, and service trucks for utility crews. Extended cabs are rare, I've only seen them on some rollbacks. Mine is a 6500 regular cab, 8.1 gas motor on propane (ex Schwan's truck). The 2003 and newer trucks use the same Duramax diesel as the 3500 pickup in the 4500 and 5500 models, not sure if you could get something bigger in the 6500 like a Cat, but I'm not a diesel guy. I know the older models came with Cat's.

My opinion (take if for what it's worth, which is free) is they are a good economical choice for a smaller TC. They share the engine with the Chevy pickup, meaning parts and service are far more reasonable than a class 8 truck, and have a heavy enough chassis to get the job done. The 4500 and 5500 I think are only suited to the really tiny TC's like Pony Express was building with an 8-10' box to pull a goose neck, with the 19.5 tires being the limiting factor in my book. The 6500 would be equivalent to an International FL70 like you would see with a Renegade or Showhauler toter up to around 14' or 16' to haul a gooseneck. Any bigger you need a class 8 chassis. Nothing against overkill, you can put a small conversion on a class 8 chassis, but in my book if the 6500 will get the job done without the expensive maintenance and parts cost of a class 8 truck, why not. Particularly those cheap ex over-the-road trucks have a ton of miles on them, and what does a turbo, or injectors or an overhaul cost? I can put a brand new, throttle body to oil pan, engine in mine for $8600, or get a complete remanufactured engine for $4300, and have the knowledge and tools to put it in myself. What does that same replacement engine cost for a class 8? And I can't work on it.

BlizzardND might have a good opinion as well, he built his conversion on a topkick low/pro chassis, but with a diesel.

Like I said, my opinion.
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Old 04-05-2012, 10:51 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by hot rod View Post
Mine is a 6500 regular cab, 8.1 gas motor on propane (ex Schwan's truck).
Talk to use about the propane. Do you have much experience with it? How does the power and fuel mileage, fuel cost compare to a diesel or gas job.

I understand that ALL the Schwans trucks are propane. For decades I drove by a Schwans terminal in I-94 at the edge of West Salem, WI (between La Crosse and Tomah) saw the big propane tank. I thought the propane was to run the refrigerators/freezers on the trucks. Then I found out they have been running the trucks on propane for decades.

How much propane will your truck hold? Range?

Started looking for 379 Peterbilt TC, 24' to 30' box, bumper pull--but ended up w/1999 Liberty Coach conversion of 45' Prevost XLV bus. 1,000sf heated/AC'd race shop w/dump station, 50amp shore pwr where bus parks, 3 NASCAR/ARCA race cars & 26' Bravo trailer.
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Old 04-06-2012, 04:57 PM   #5
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Our family business used to be propane until the folks sold to a national company back in the 90's. Literally the first thing I drove when I was a little kid was a Wheel Horse with a bbq tank on the back it ran on. Used it on everything from cars, pickups, medium duty trucks and race cars. So I have the experience, no problem there.

Propane is a very simple fuel to use, nothing special to do once the initial conversion is done. It burns cleaner than gasoline, emissions are practically zero compared to a gas or diesel engine, which makes sense in today's "green" craze. I can guarantee Schwan's is getting a boatload of government subsidies or tax credits for every new "alternative fuel" vehicle they put on the road. They gotta be loving Obama. The fuel is very clean, as in no contaminants in the fuel, nothing to gum up the engine, and we used to experience double the engine life of a comparable gasoline engine as a rule of thumb. I remember pulling the heads off of a 366 big block chevy in one of our C-60 medium duty delivery trucks (needed a valve job) that had 375,000 miles on it. The engine literally looked like new inside, no gunk or carbon buildup, we did a valve job put the heads back on and ran it another 100,000 miles til the chassis wore out. Those are around town delivery miles, not over-the-road, and mind you this is a gas motor, not a diesel.

Mileage is comparable to the same vehicle on gasoline, properly tuned of course. In my case my Chevy 3500 dually gets about 11 mpg empty, and 6.5 mpg towing my 20,000# gooseneck on gasoline. The 6500 got over 10 mpg empty driving it back from Wisconsin where we bought it to Ohio, so I expect the towing mileage will be about the same as my dually as well, minus something for the weight of the box I want to build.

Power again is comparable to the same engine on gas. In the old days propane had a reputation for lower power, but you just need to tune a little differently than gas and most people don't know how. For example in my race motors I would run 45-48 degrees total timing depending on how hard I wanted to lean on it, compared to maybe 38 degrees on a gasoline race motor. Different heat range in the plugs, etc. In those days it would have been a propane carb, but these new Schwans trucks run direct port liquid propane injection through the stock injectors and stock computer program, they just change out the fuel rails, lines, (and tank of course) as they are running it at about 160 psi to the injector. Other aftermarket conversion kits for pickups and cars can use a stand alone computer or wire into the stock computer, and can actually run dual-fuel where you can switch over to gasoline at the flip of a switch if needed.

My truck has dual tanks and can haul 160 gallons, so I should have almost 1000 mile range worse case, and every flying J has propane. Some of the Schwans trucks only have a single tank at around 100 gallons, which still gives a good range.

There are plenty of Schwan's trucks out there as bare cab/chassis if you look. They put the refrigerator body on a new chassis at around 175,000 miles from what I have seen, which leaves plenty of life for what we use them for, and engine life is good as previously noted. They are generally cheap because the propane scares off a lot of folks. The dealer I bought mine from converts most of them back to gas before he sells them, which just involves fuel rails, lines, tank, and fuel pump. Most of them are 4500 and 5500 chassis, which are great for very small toters, or a western hauler type deal, but there are some 6500's but they are a little harder to find.

I paid $5000 for mine with 180,000 on the clock, and it is in pristine condition. But the Schwan's gold paint has got to go! I am pleased with mine for the price, and you can get the 4500/5500 trucks cheaper than that. Try finding a dually pickup in good shape for $5000.

Another added bonus for an RV conversion, is you don't need another propane tank, you can run the coach off the same tank, and you can get a propane powered RV generator far cheaper than a diesel model, and again run off of the same tank.
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Old 12-21-2012, 11:08 PM   #6
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dont forget the c7500 and c8500 topkick and kodiak's
my 7500 has a 33,600 gvw so guess its in the edge of the class 8's and the c8500's have to be. these also came in tandum axle configurations. Plus the still share alot of the pick parts to make stuff easy to find including dress up stuff and other acc.

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