Ambulance Camper/ Expedition Rig Conversion FAQ

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
13.2 is very low to charge batteries. It'll take a century if ever. You'd want something more like 14 or 14+ to charge them.

The fuses would be benificial... but you should be getting more voltage than that. How much voltage do you have at the alternator when running?
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
Whelen 700 Series lights (without flange) are: 3 1/16" (78mm) H x 7 1/4" (184mm) W. What you may have is the Old Style 73 Series, but there is a kit available to convert 700 Series to fit in old holes.

700 Series Snap-In Halogen Lightheads is probably what you would need to replace the old strobes, or if you really wanted to spend some money there are the 700 Series Super-LED® Lightheads.

I have no experience with the Tomar Brand, so I can't help you there.

BTW, if you find a deal on the Whelen 700 Series Clear LED Scene lights, let me know. I need a couple.
Pat you sure know your stuff. The set I'd looked at last night just had patted numbers. However, sure enough, the others are 73 Series and the share the same bolt pattern.
IMG_6444.jpgIMG_6446.jpg
 
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patoz

Expedition Leader
Pat you sure know your stuff.

Hahaha, after 35 years in Fire and EMS, and 4 years on this forum, a few things were bound to be retained by my feeble brain. Of course, I don't remember what I had for lunch yesterday... wait, did I have lunch yesterday? :chowtime: Oh well, I need to loose a few pounds anyway! :agree:
 

epinfRN

New member
13.2 is very low to charge batteries. It'll take a century if ever. You'd want something more like 14 or 14+ to charge them.

The fuses would be benificial... but you should be getting more voltage than that. How much voltage do you have at the alternator when running?
Dang, I was hoping to hear otherwise! I tested again later and was getting 13.5 at idle and was able to contort myself to be able to throttle the engine up and measure at the same points I was mentioning earlier and the voltage actually dropped into the low 13s. What does it all mean?

Honestly I have no idea how to test the alternator. I'm pretty confident that this sucker has 2. Do I just check the starting battery voltage while it's idling?
 
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gtbensley

Explorer
Dang, I was hoping to hear otherwise! I tested again later and was getting 13.5 at idle and was able to contort myself to be able to throttle the engine up and measure at the same points I was mentioning earlier and the voltage actually dropped into the low 13s. What does it all mean?

Honestly I have no idea how to test the alternator. I'm pretty confident that this sucker has 2. Do I just check the starting battery voltage while it's idling?
It should not be dropping if you throttle up. To test the alternator just trace the red power feed from it and find a good ground and connect the probe to power and ground just as you did the fuses. Checking the battery will be a quick way of checking this while running vs not but this may not show the whole story.

That commander may be able to regulate output vs load as well. Will no load it could be keeping the voltage lower and not charging as nothing is hooked to it.
 

finboy

Member
Hi guys,

Read through this whole thread, and am considering an ambulance for my camping needs. Wanting to stick with the smallest footprint while still having the box, I'm thinking a short wheelbase might be best.

Even though getting one from a government directly seems like the best bet, what is everyone's thoughts on this? Price is a touch high and one cabinet has been removed from the inside along with the bench/chairs (which I would ditch anyways). Is this the mini-mod that has been mentioned? It looks like a narrow/short version to me, which seems harder to find by my search.

https://www.kijiji.ca/v-cars-other/kelowna/97-ex-government-ambulance/1282197609
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
Hi guys,

Read through this whole thread, and am considering an ambulance for my camping needs. Wanting to stick with the smallest footprint while still having the box, I'm thinking a short wheelbase might be best.

Even though getting one from a government directly seems like the best bet, what is everyone's thoughts on this? Price is a touch high and one cabinet has been removed from the inside along with the bench/chairs (which I would ditch anyways). Is this the mini-mod that has been mentioned? It looks like a narrow/short version to me, which seems harder to find by my search.

https://www.kijiji.ca/v-cars-other/kelowna/97-ex-government-ambulance/1282197609
Price seems high, but mileage and hours are better than most.

It's a Crestline 'New Era'. Similar to a minimod but a few inches taller & wider. 88" wide x 148" long with 66" of standing room inside.
Mine was built 12/96 and appears to be the same. Should have a 7.3 PSD, 215 amp Mitsubishi Alternator, Duallies out back. I really enjoy mine. It's very nice to drive around town and for long highway trips. I wouldn't hesitate to buy one again.

That said, full disclosure, it's a van body and doing any work under the hood takes way longer than it should... and involves much cursing at the Ford designers. Mine has about 200k miles, and 16k+ hours... it runs like a top and has required less maintenance than any other older vehicle in the 3 years I've owned it.

Price, I've seen many sell on the BCauction site for 3-4K. Privately listed for $3500-8000. I think the one there is worth more like $5k without the $3000 awning.

For comparison sake I paid $1250 cdn for mine. At the time I bought it there were a couple for sale asking $7000, and the fire department listed for $3500 obo. I bought mine for a song, but $8000... I'd keep looking, or go see it in person with cash in hand and see if they'd work with you. Don't bother trying to negotiate over the phone... unless you're far, far away.

When searching look for a Crestline pre 2004.
 

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finboy

Member
Thanks for the heads up, I'm in calgary so showing up cash in hand is less likely. I will keep looking and see if the seller can get better pictures/details. I saw the one in namimo, looks like it's been driven hard and put away wet, and having no garage I definitely want to look at something in good mechanical shape.

I know what you mean on cramped engine bays, my old cars were of the turbo dodge variation, where mounting the turbo under the intake behind the engine was seen as a reasonable engineering decision, I have a good collection of ratchet wrenches and flex sockets as a result. Has anyone figured out a good intercooling solution?

There is a 4x4 trick based duramax type 3 for a similar price, interesting but 2004 duramax's seem like a heaaadach, and as nice as the 4x4 would be for winter camping, the extra wheelbase and $2500 injector change sounds like more hassle than it's worth.
 

rlrenz

Explorer
As has already been said somewhere on the ambulance threads, check out the steering carefully, particularly the tie rod ends. Mileage is also important, but do you look for a low mileage unit (maybe lots of city driving?), or a higher mileage unit (highway driving?). There are arguments both ways, but I bought a low mileage unit that was used by a VFD in a small town - my 1999 Medic Master had only 52,000 miles when I bought it. I assumed that ambulance miles equaled hard miles, and so far, I've only had the usual running maintenance items to handle (brake lines, brake calipers).

Also, if the unit you look at has hydraulic brakes, and it's over about 10 years old, plan on replacing EVERY brake line soon. Ambulances live in nice, warm, fire houses, and they are usually parked over a floor drain, so the underside is constantly subjected to snow/slop and then warm and damp back int he house. The result is a short life for brake lines.

Virtually every ambulance out there leads a hard life - instant engine starts, full throttle starts from a stop, hard braking, and lots of time idling. The chassis are durable, as are the modules (the ambulance portion), but maintenance is definitely important.

Accordingly, I would tend to look for a unit sold by a volunteer fire department over a unit that was owned by a private ambulance company. FDs are used to preventive maintenance, and probably won't be as likely to let something slip until the next time the mechanic sees the unit. A municipal-owned unit is also usually a well maintained vehicle, but always check to see what has been removed to be saved as a spare part for a different unit in the fleet. Sirens, oxygen equipment and lights are often saved, but watch for someone who decided to save the inverter or electrical equipment. If the warning light lenses have been removed, you now have a hole in the side that you have to plug. Even though you can't use the old warning lights, the lenses can be painted to match the body, and left in place.

If the inverter has been removed, and just unplugged, it's not a disaster (except you have to buy an inverter). The Anderson plug on an ambulance inverter is easily purchased, and another inverter can be installed easily. Be careful if someone has just cut the wires - that may indicate that wholesale parts robbing happened.

If the unit has a digital control package for the module, check to see if it works before you plunk money down, Some of the components may have gone obsolete, and may be difficult and expensive to replace. If the unit uses the Weldon VMUX control package, the good news is that it's still made, but the bad news is that it gets expensive very fast. Even on ebay or used emergency equipment sites, plan on from $250-500 for control nodes (usually about 4 are used to do the actual switching), and up to about $1000 for a control module (control panel).

For those reasons, I bought a unit with conventional relay technology - if a relay dies, a new one is only $5 or so.

What brand to buy is also a big question - the decision is usually based on availability, but different makers use different components. I looked for a Freightliner-based unit with a Cummins engine, but I could have also had a Freightliner with a Caterpillar, a Mercedes, or a Detroit Diesel engine. Some brands have more headroom than others as well - my Medic Master has 72", some other makers have only 70".

I went with a Medic Master unit. Built by American LaFrance, Medic Master built a good unit, but they went out of business in 2008, and American LaFrance went out in 2013. Since ambulance users usually sell units that are over 10 years old, Medic Masters are seen fairly often on surplus sites, while other brands may be retained as spares by the users. Being made by a maker who's out of business also tends to reduce the price for used units.

Parts aren't a worry - parts for all ambulances come from the same manufacturers - door handles, grab irons, door latches, light fixtures, warning lights, are all off the shelf (once you find the shelf).

If you can find a unit that has the owner's manual, you're in the small percentage of buyers. All the manufacturers do things similarly, so a manual helps, but it certainly isn't crucial. A friend of mine is an ambulance electrician who worked on different units every day, from every manufacturer. He never even looked to see if there was a manual in the cab.

You mentioned Crestline - they have a solid reputation as a good ambulance builder. Some other brands out there have poorer reputations, usually for their wiring layouts and workmanship.
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
Another thing to keep in mind is A/C if it's important to you. The rear box will cook in the summer if driving without it. Carrying kids in the back was an issue for me.

Not sure on the changeover year, but my 97 had steel lines going to the rear A/C. The steel lines rusted off and broke. I replaced them with aluminum lines from an 2001 Ambulance which I got a ton of parts from. Here's a brief list of costs to get A/C operational again (could cost more... or less): A/C compressor $450, lines $0, front condensor $0, air dryer $0, fan clutch $450, water pump $200, Rad hoses $175, A/C Pressure test / recharge / fix 2 hose ends $450, labour & labour & labour $0(friends) Moral, it could cost a small fortune to fix if it isn't working... overall I got off lucky. If you can call $1500+ as lucky. Clutch fan wasn't pulling enough for A/C to work... water pump & rad hoses were done while it was apart as preventative maintenance.

By the way, it'll be a money pit till it isn't. Also spent about $1000 on rear leaf springs & $300 on front coils... & $1000 on front end work. Rear brakes $1000.

BTW, front rotors are about $250/side.

Look at recent maintenance/work when evaluating price.
 

finboy

Member
For sure, ac is a big deal as I have 2 doggo's that we want to keep cool while camping so it is one of my top questions when searching for these. Definitely want to avoid the money pit issue as it will be a hobby vehicle and not a daily driver. I am trying to figure if having a dealership give a once over is possible as most of these things seem to be on farms, rural environments, or auction sites. I don't seem to find many of the specific type I'm looking for locally, so looking it over myself is proving a challenge.

Definitely considering the cost of single wheel conversion as well, as I will likely need to go with winter and summer tires as there is much potential for driving through rogers pass, kootneys, etc. And buying 8 tires instead of 12 would be ideal.
 

rlrenz

Explorer
Another thing to look for is a 120 volt standby air conditioner. I'm seeing them more and more frequently, so you might be able to find one as a bonus. The standby units are powered from a 30 amp 120 volt connector (identical to a camper or a boat connector) mounted on the body. When the unit is plugged in, the standby AC kicks in when the thermostat calls for AC, and there's usually also a heater that comes on when it cools down outside.

Buying and installing the pieces from Hoseline usually runs about $3000 for parts, and about the same for installation labor. Some folks have installed a 5000 BTU home AC instead, but this may get ugly fast. Others are planning on a residential split system.

Regardless, a 120 volt standby AC is nice to have.
 

rlrenz

Explorer
When I bought mine, I paid extra to buy a Reconditioned unit. All the fluids & filters were changed, new batteries, new AC compressor, new air compressor, and everything checked out to be certain it all worked correctly. If you buy one as-is, think about changing every fluid as soon as possible - it never hurts, and it can save you a PITA problem in the future.

And when it comes time to buy tires, avoid Chinese tires - I had some that I had to replace because they couldn't be balanced, plus they always seemed to be searching for the road.

Every ambulance I've ever run into had parasitic drains from the batteries - even though the master switch was opened, the vehicle still pulled some power for various circuits that an ambulance operator might need immediately, such as dropping the air suspension so a gurney could be loaded. The only solution is to either keep the ground connector always plugged in, or install a separate battery switch on the negative battery lead.
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
I figure I'm not doing bad since I bought it for a song. If I'd paid 6k I'd be much less happy to have spent what I have. All in I've probably got about $6500 cdn into it in close to 4 years... and it's a very reliable rig. Any way you look at it, you'll be into it for $6-8k at least.
 
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