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January 2013

The Road to Motorcoach Refurbishment

For the typical operator, purchasing brand new motorcoaches to replace an aging fleet is simply not a possibility. But, refurbishment can give new life to a worn out coach for about one-third the cost of a new vehicle, and the refurbishment process can cover structural, mechanical and even cosmetic issues.

So, how do you know if refurbishment is right for your fleet? METRO Magazine spoke with leaders in the refurbishment industry to find out what kinds of operators will benefit from this service.

Is your coach a candidate?
Operators want to know if they are getting the value they want if they put money into updating an older coach. Big Rig Collision Group (BRC) VP, Business Development, Rob Pek says that operators must take a hard look at the condition of the vehicle to make that decision.

“If the bus is up to sound safety standards mechanically, then it probably does make a good candidate for refurbishment,” he explains. “But if they have to go in and rebuild the bus mechanically — new engine, new transmission, electrical work, as well as brakes, suspension, etc. — then you really have to ask yourself: does it make sense to put a couple hundred thousand into a 12-year-old bus?”

On average, the cost to remanufacture a coach is $125,000 while a new coach will typically cost $400,000, according to statistics provided by CoachCrafters Inc. Besides the difference in costs, though, operators need to consider whether or not they can have a coach out of service for the two months it usually takes to complete the refurbishment process.

“The majority of our buses are supplied by customers,” says Wayne Wolf, VP of Coachcrafters. “This may not be practical for many smaller motorcoach operators who don’t have the luxury of having several coaches down for six weeks.”

Loaner vehicles available
Having a coach in the shop for two months can become a major inconvenience for operators. However, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, according to Pek.

Although BRC does not sell refurbished coaches, it does have a small fleet of repaired vehicles that it loans out to clients.

“We do have three coaches that we’ve acquired over the years that have been in collisions. We repaired the coaches, and now, we loan them out as part of a rental fleet,” says Pek. “If we have a client that brings in a bus, either for refurbishment or repair, and they’re short a bus in their rotation, we lend them or lease them back our refurbished bus. It works well as a client perk for us.”

Determine the ‘scope of work’
Once an operator has decided to refurbish a vehicle, the chosen refurbisher will start “the process of determining the scope of work,” says Louis Hotard, director of technical services for ABC Companies.

In many cases, the geographic location of the vehicle will determine what needs to be attended to. In snowy regions, “those coaches will traditionally see more corrosion challenges,” Pek says. “So, a lot of what we’ll do for that coach is the usual structural repairs.”

BRC will often start by cleaning up dents on the body of the vehicle and replacing the panels and rear wheel tubs. Corrosion, Pek points out, can start under the vehicle flooring — especially in high-traffic areas where passengers are tracking in corrosive elements from outside.

“Once corrosion starts, you can’t stop it,” he explains. “You literally have to go in there, and in a lot of cases, replace the entire steel structure to bring the integrity of the coach back to OEM-like conditions.”

CoachCrafters starts by pressure washing, de-scaling and sandblasting the undercarriage of a vehicle once it is disassembled. The disassembly process includes a complete structural inspection and a written plan.

“I always stress to our customers that good planning and attention to detail is essential if you want a successful overhaul,” Wolf says.


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