Defect could impact school buses across the Carolinas

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COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) – A hidden danger could be lurking on thousands of school buses across North Carolina and South Carolina.

WMBF News’ sister station, WBTV, has been investigating problems with heater hoses on Thomas rear-engine school buses bursting and spraying hot antifreeze into school buses for two years.

WBTV’s investigation continued after a school bus from Lexington County, S.C. sprung a leak in February, injuring six students.

The same problem happened less than two years earlier on a school bus taking kids home from Porter Ridge Middle School in Union County, N.C., according to WBTV.

The two incidents make up just two of at least nine such heater hose leaks identified by WBTV across the country since 2011.

Thomas Built Buses, who manufactures the bus, issued a recall for the problem last summer, according to WBTV. However, the recall only applies to school bus model years 2014 to 2017.

WMBF News took a deeper look specifically at the age of South Carolina’s fleet that is on the road as of the start of this school year.

The average age of the buses S.C. children are riding on is 15-and-a-half years.

According to a report from the S.C. Department of Education, there are more than 3,000 buses that are older than that, with more than 1,900 manufactured in 1995 or 1996.

The report, released in November, said a bond bill in 1994 led to the purchase of these buses. It also stated the rear-engine buses have served the state well, but now have significant issues.

According to the report, the rear-engine configuration makes the buses difficult to inspect, service and maintain.

Below is a breakdown of the number of bus fires and dangerous overheating events statewide, according to the S.C. Department of Education’s report:

  • 1995-1996: 1
  • 1996-1997: 0
  • 1997-1998: 0
  • 1998-1999: 0
  • 2000-2001: 1
  • 2001-2002: 1
  • 2002-2003: 3
  • 2003-2004: 1
  • 2004-2005: 6
  • 2005-2006: 7
  • 2006-2007: 21
  • 2007-2008: 6
  • 2008-2009: 4
  • 2009-2010: 8
  • 2010-2011: 6
  • 2011-2012: 5
  • 2012-2013: 9
  • 2013-2014: 7
  • 2014-2015: 7
  • 2015-2016: 13
  • 2016-2017: 1 (as of Nov. 29, 2016)

WMBF News has asked the state for a county-by-county breakdown to see where these older buses are. At this point, there has been no response.

Read the full S.C. Department of Education report below:

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