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Old 08-27-2015, 08:17 PM   #1
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Default Recommendation on what truck to buy

Hello gentleman, I'm looking to purchase a used truck and start a build. I am looking for recommendations on trucks with pros and cons of individual trucks. I have some ideas but would like some feed back from individuals who have already been down the road.
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Old 08-28-2015, 06:25 PM   #2
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Well, I'm pretty sure most of the people that have built their trucks would tell you it's going to cost you twice as much and take twice as long as if you bought one already built. There are enough good units for sale that you should be able to find something much cheaper and ready to go. In my mind the only reason to build your own is if you absolutely need something very different than anything you can find.
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Old 08-29-2015, 08:20 PM   #3
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What truck to buy... depends on what you your goals are.
Automatic or standard or some sort of autoshift?
Medium duty or heavy duty?
Price range?
What is your length goal? (you'll save $ if you don't have to stretch it)
How many rear axles? Air ride?
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Old 08-29-2015, 09:11 PM   #4
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Im not looking for something that has already been built. I have a specific floor plan with a very specific garage that I want. I also need a project to keep me busy (for the next 2 years or so).

I now see that I should have given much more info. The coach (and garage) will measures 34'. Looking for a heavy duty truck with tandems. I will also be pulling a 15,000 lb trailer. Overall length will end up being somewhere around 45' or slightly under depending on truck.

So my original questions should have been more like this. I am thinking I would like to be in the 400 hp range. Do you think this will be adequate power? I have no issue driving a standard trans but my wife has never driven a tractor, she is a very capable driver and will currently drive our 38' unit towing a 30' trailer. She is open to the idea of a manual trans but i wonder if going full auto would be better? I do not think i am interested in an auto shift, I drove in one and it shifted terrible. If the truck i was in was not the norm and someone can give me different feedback I would be happy to listen. I would like a truck pre 2007 to avoid the emissions components. I am trying to stay under 300,000 miles. I have been looking at Volvo's but I don't know that much about them. Pro's and con's on Volvo would be great. As far as suspension can anyone give suggestions as to air ride or not. I was told by a mechanic friend that Western Star cab wiring can be difficult to work on because all of the wires are the same color, wiring diagrams are not available and often times need to be taken to dealer for repairs. Any info like this would be great.
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Old 08-30-2015, 09:04 AM   #5
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I've got a 10 speed 3 pedal autoshift. I like it. Never miss a gear. I just have to use the clutch to get it rolling, and when I come to a stop. Works great. The service manager at my local Kenworth shop said these boxes are extremely reliable. If I was building a camper I would never consider doing so on a fully manual trans truck. You would have a very difficult time selling it down the road. Or your heirs would. It's also just so much more convenient and comfortable to drive an auto shift too. I could see rowing gears if you were a truck driver since you can skip gears and start in whatever gear you want. I just don't think it's that needed on a Truck Conversion. There are plenty of trucks available with some sort of auto shift. I wouldn't want an hydraulic transmission like an Alison. I don't know a lot about them. But, they have a torque converter. These generate heat, which sounds like a loss of power to me. And, they are much more complicated than an autoshift. Which means more expense when it fails.
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Old 08-30-2015, 09:09 AM   #6
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You want to have 34' overall length on the coach? A day cab truck is going to be at least 10' front bumper to back of cab. That leaves you 24' for the living quarters. Now, you want a garage in there? Doesn't sound like much space left for living quarters. Pretty sure a 34' coach isn't going to need tandem drive axles. You can put a single rear axle rated at 22,700 lbs. (that's what my rear axle is rated) and I don't think you're going to be able to overload that with that short of a coach. With a single axle you have more room for storage and utilities.
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Old 08-30-2015, 09:16 AM   #7
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Now, you're going to have a hard time finding a pre-2007 truck with less than 300k miles. I don't think the miles is that big of a deal. Maintenance is more important. My son is an owner/operator. He bought his truck about 3 years ago. It's an '03 Freightliner FL Classic with a N14 Cummins engine and straight 10 trans. It had 1.1 million miles when he bought it. It had a in frame engine rebuild 100k miles before he bought it. He's had no mechanical problems with it. And he's regularly at 80k lbs. Pretty sure this truck gets worked way harder than a truck would in r/v use. So, I wouldn't be too worried about a high mileage truck to build on. The care it's received during its use as a commercial rig is what I'd scrutinize.
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Old 08-30-2015, 09:26 AM   #8
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About the Western Star, I've heard that same complaint about Freightliner. I don't know if it's all that valid though. Especially on FL. There are just so many of these trucks on the road that any mechanic worth his salt should be able to work on it just fine. FL has a pretty extensive internet database too. I'm not too familiar with Western Star. I guess from a service aspect I'd lean more toward FL. Even compared to Volvo. Volvo is very popular with the HDT (campers that use semi-tractors to pull their 5th wheels) and they seem to love them. I think finding a repair center is slightly harder than FL, and some of the parts might be slightly more expensive than FL. I don't think the difference is that important for rv use though since we just don't abuse our trucks like a commercial use truck is. More important to me would be pre-emission and non-smoker. The non-smoker is the hardest thing to find.
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Old 08-30-2015, 09:33 AM   #9
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Two years to build it is about right. If you work hard. Don't forget it's going to cost you twice as much as you think it will. Just ask any of the several around here that have built their own. And, even if you are very accurate in your price calculations you might not spend twice as much. But, it's only going to be worth less than half of what you spent building it when you (or your heirs) have to sell it.
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Old 08-30-2015, 09:34 AM   #10
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How can you get 15k lbs. in a 10' trailer?
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Old 08-30-2015, 11:44 AM   #11
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What is your budget for a truck? The allison's will lock up in 2-5 or 2-6 and they're less expensive to repair than an autoshift. (You can have one rebuilt here in southern Ca for 2000-2500 at a lot of shops)
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Old 08-30-2015, 01:16 PM   #12
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Default What truck to buy?

Hello Jakep:

I converted a 2003 Pete 379 into a motorhome, not a toter. I am very pleased with the way it turned out; took me abt five years. Truck has a pre-emission Cat C-15 and an Eaton-Fuller 18 speed; 3.36 rears. Abt 870,000 miles on it when I got it. I've put abt 40,000 miles on it. I spent $30,000 for the truck, plus another $6,000 to drop the front drivers and extend the frame. However, these pre-emission trucks have gone way up in price in the last few years. I bought when the market was low; I lucked out.

A few repair items over the course of my ownership so far, but nothing I would consider "major." New brake chambers; new pitman arm; replaced rear seals; new batteries; replace the windshield; so forth and so on. Plus, of course, regular oil and filter changes.

Here is my advise to you: define very specifically to yourself exactly what you want your vehicle to do, and how you want it to look. Take your time in the design phase of your project; put together a plan; and then stick to it. When you get all done, you want to end up with what you wanted and not something which changed as you built it.

Start with the best tractor you can afford, whatever it may be. These class 8 trucks last a long time and most everything can be repaired. Don't be afraid of a high mileage unit if it offers everything which important to you.

When you get all done, and stand back and look at, you don't want to be in a position of "wishing" you had done something differently, or something which turned out "less" because you could save a few bucks.

It took me five years to find my "perfect" truck; I'm glad I waited; it turned out just exactly like I wanted it to; and it is awesome.

Best of luck to you. Enjoy your project!

Speed Gray, K8SG
Grand Rapids, MI
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Old 08-30-2015, 10:54 PM   #13
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im 41 feet tip to tail (11 feet for the tractor portion, bumper to rear cab wall), thats 30 feet of box.

ours is rated at 450 hp and id love to have more and i bet you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that would say they wouldnt want more.....while our truck has adequate power, more is always better (even if you don't use it) imo.

our 12 speed smart shift is the most amazing thing about the coach....skip shifts (as needed based on load) and it does the same when slowing down....we love it...its not fast shifting but its smooth and quiet - id never go automatic (not enough gears imo).

face it the thing that makes our coach(es) the powerhouses that they are - is the transmissions (manual or smart shifting man-umatics)....imo you cant get that out of an 8 speed automatic w/ a torque converter.

unless you absolutely need the weight bearing of a 2nd driven axle id avoid it....3k in extra tires for that 2nd axle was enough to change my mind.

as for wiring - our FL / Columbia uses teflon coated wires (fire proof) - and theyre all the same color & individually numbered....EXACTLY like an airplane, its not rocket science to trace a wire or find the other end of the numbered wire. Personally i have no problem w Freightliner (over volvo) - the dash/gauge options in the FL's are better (volvo is mostly electronic display...just something more expensive to go wrong imo).

FL parts are common and it can be worked on in any truckstop (volvo too probably but i bet getting the parts is more difficult).
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Old 08-31-2015, 08:14 AM   #14
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Thank you all for you input.

Bob86zz4 the box is going to be 34’ plus the truck cab giving me an overall length of 45’. It will have a small garage (8’ long) with a passenger side ramp door. My trailer is 30’ which hauls 2 Jeep rock crawlers or 9 ATV’s on a stacker system I built.

Asitool I am looking to try and stay in the $40,000 range but a solid truck is more important then saving a few bucks.

I definitely want to stay with tandems, I don’t want to be close on weight. I always end up heavier then I think. Spare Axles, driveshaft’s (for the Jeeps), tools and all the other crap I bring gets heavy fast.

Highway Opie I love the Pete 379. I have been working on the floor plan for 3 years the wife keeps throwing wrenches into the plan. When I get everything all figured out she tells me she wants something else I hadn’t planed for. I am at a point now where we are both (mainly her) happy with the plan.

After hearing you all of you I will be looking for as much power as I can get. I am never happy with adequate I always want more.

Hers a picture of my trailer with the ATV.
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Old 08-31-2015, 08:23 AM   #15
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here it is, maybe
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Old 08-31-2015, 07:30 PM   #16
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Only problem I see is the overall length.
45´ + 30´ = 75´
I believe the maximum highway length in most states for an rv is 65'

Yeah, sucks don't it. I have a 40' toy hauler+5' for 5th wheel clearance + 14´ planned back of cab = 7'of deck. Enough for a smart or a golf cart :-(
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Old 08-31-2015, 11:04 PM   #17
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RV Size & Length Limits by State --> CLICK HERE

that being said - MANY ignore those limits and never have a problem, including many here.
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Old 09-02-2015, 03:06 PM   #18
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Here you go: 2000 Kenworth Powerhouse Conversion w Garage for Sale in HONESDALE, PA | RacingJunk Classifieds
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Old 09-02-2015, 03:07 PM   #19
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Ramp is on the back instead of the side, oh well. And the garage is 10' instead of 8'. Pretty sure you'd not be able to buy a truck and build to this for $78k.
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Old 09-02-2015, 10:31 PM   #20
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I agree you can buy a finished TC for less than you will have in a custom build, plus be ready to go now, instead of 2+ years. Most T/C will have less miles than any previous over the road tractor, they just do not get the constant use that OTR tractor does.

Always can use more power, so 400 hp minimum. Also bigger engine is better, as the bigger engine gives the torque which is what really counts. A 400 hp 12 liter is less torque than a 400 hp 15 liter as a rough example. Seems a lot of Volvo have the 13 liter Mercedes engine, at least in TC I have searched.

Autoshift is actually quite nice, I have the 10 speed ultrashift. No clutch pedal inside, the computer does all the clutch work. My only complaint is when coasting down, then getting on throttle it sometimes picks a gear too low and should have been one higher just for smoother transition. But absolutely easy to drive and no complaints from me.

Twin screw is nice, although I would bet 90% of TC could get by with single rear if only weight was the concern. But two axles does give the extra traction if required, and an extra set of brakes. Also tire loading is very low with 8 tires vs 4. Plus on a 40+ total length, twin rear just looks more proportional.

Another consideration for an already made TC is that it would have no issues about registration as motorhome, and avoid any DMV type hassles with switching from class 8 commercial to RV. Same with insurance, it is already RV done by a conversion company so no hassles there.
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