Planning for better days: Keep your idled fleet ready to roll with care and attention

It was a mild winter until mid-February; then came 120” of snow in 4 weeks. My beloved Miata was down for the count, a tiny lump under feet of snow.

By late March I could tunnel in, but it was deader than roadkill. After a bodacious jump-start it belched reluctantly to life. A couple of weeks later it emerged from the snow cave, and during a brief interval of nice weather, I cranked down the power top.

As the weather window began closing, I hit the switch to raise the top and . . . nothing. My buddy and I manhandled that sucker up before the rain started and headed to the Mazda dealer.

It took mere minutes to resolve the problem . . . prolonged electron deprivation had caused the car’s computer to forget some things, roof-raising in particular. Like a reverse “Men in Black” Neuralyzer the dealer flashed that sucker, revived its brain cells and the Miata lived happily ever after.

As this is written, virtually 95% of the nation’s motorcoach fleet is sitting idle, with no certainty as to when those buses are going to be needed again. There are some things we can do now, so that, when that magic moment arrives, they’ll be ready.

Some things are obvious… start them regularly. It’s more important now than ever, because it’s uncertain how all this digital stuff will react to electronic malnutrition. Let’s not find out.

If you must jump-start, do it the way the manufacturer recommends. The computers are already miffed about being ignored for weeks, so let’s be gentle with them. Getting it wrong can cause the digital version of a hissy fit.

Whenever possible, move buses around. That keeps seals supple, bearings lubricated, tires round and prevents things like brake rotors from rusting. It’s humiliating when you leap into a bus and the brakes won’t let go.

In ye olden days clutch disks sometimes rusted to the pressure plate. It took a hammer, screwdriver and colorful language to separate them. Those same words work for lots of snafus.

If quarantine (and insurance) permits… go roaring down the road. Blow out that silly DPF so it doesn’t bite your bussy butt later on. Now’s not a bad time to force a regen; charges the battery, and your bus is ready to leap into action if called.

Treat your fuel. Believe it or not, stuff can live in there. Algae is NOT your friend. You might want to consider a process called “polishing” for diesel that sits for months.

Run your HVAC. Not only does it keep components exercised, but it dries your cabin. Humidity creates all sorts of mischief. There are products like DampRid that can help reduce moisture. Trust me, you don’t want your buses smelling like my old dorm room.

Clean coach cabins thoroughly NOW. Organic stuff not only smells bad but attracts vermin. Mice love dining and nesting in seat cushions near their colleagues… roaches. Deprive them of temptation. Frankly an antiseptic smell will be a marketing plus in the near future.

Don’t eat any aging candy bars you find, and do not ask how I know.

Change your oil before hitting the road. Condensation and just sitting around can create acid and other noxious stuff. Best your buses not get heartburn.

Track things like inspections… bureaucrats are dormant, but will pounce if you hiccup.

Our hearts swelled with pride as the 1947 Aerocoach was towed off to it’s patriotic destiny, parked as a temporary “Spiro Agnew for Governor” campaign office. It was 1966, and Spiro was still a good guy.

Our operation was seasonal, hauling high-school kids cross-country to camps in the summer, with short trips on one or two other weekends. We thought we knew how to embalm and resuscitate buses.

That past fall, a miscreant driver, passing through the Baltimore harbor tunnel, thought it funny to cut the ignition on the 600 cubic inch gas engine, then switch it back on. Normally this resulted in a gratifying blast of orange flame, but this time it cracked the exhaust manifold.

After replacing the manifold we parked the bus for the winter.

When we tried to start it in the spring, the engine spun nicely, but never caught. We performed all the old gas engine starting magic, but no joy.

My boss decided the Aerocoach was 20 years old, and ready to retire. He sold it to the Agnew campaign. Waiting for the tow truck, just for giggles, he tried starting it again and noticed that, after replacing the manifold, we had forgotten to hook up the throttle linkage.

Fired RIGHT up.

Keep records of what you’ve done to each coach, so you know where you stand when the magic moment arrives and you begin to book business.

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