[rant]Aircraft ‚sellers‘, mechanics and the difficulties of buying an airplane[/rant]

German guy

Cleared for Takeoff
Dec 7, 2009
Novi, MI
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This is the third time, my wife and I are in the market for a plane: The first one was a Cessna, then our Mooney and now something fun like a Kitfox or maybe a vintage aircraft.

We probably all heard the advice of how to buy an airplane, if one wants to avoid almost certain financial disaster and possibly bodily harm: Ask for tons of pictures, copies of the log books, question the seller about every detail of the aircraft’s history and equipment, schedule a test flight, have the seller bring the airplane to a mechanic of your choice for a (at least) full day pre-buy inspection, negotiate a price significantly below VRef, yada yada yada…

Seriously, who really manages to go through all of this?

Over the past few years, I inquired about quite a few planes, I would think between 40 and 60. I was surprised about how many ‘sellers’ would not even answer e-mails or messages on their mailbox with a few basic questions or the simple request for pictures.
I also learned that it is next to impossible to even get high quality, detailed photos of the plane. Around 5 low resolution photos, taken with a 10 year old flip phone, inside a dimly lit hangar seems to be about the average one can realistically expect.
Copies of the logbooks? If I’m lucky maybe a few poor pictures of the last pages.
Basic questions like how old is the fabric, when was the engine overhauled? “Not long ago, in the 90. Oh, wait a minute – maybe in the 80s or earlier. But it looks / runs great”.
Tell me about the avionics. “Everything works. It has a radio and even a transponder. Very expensive, from Garmin”.
How would you describe the condition of the paint? “Beautiful, I often get compliments for my plane”. Even the crappy pictures however clearly show that the paint’s best days are long gone.

We also didn’t have much luck with mechanics, not to speak of the hope that the seller would fly the plane somewhere for inspection. On one occasion we had a pre-buy done by a Cessna Center – they missed ADs and even obvious stuff like a completely worn torque link, an inop directional gyro and missing paperwork / inadequate installation of an IFR GPS, even though I specifically instructed them to check the proper installation of the GPS.
On another occasion we used a mechanic who was recommended to us. All he did was to flip through the logs, peek in a few inspection openings, walk around the plane and chat with the seller. Awesome.

Finally, good planes for reasonable prices seem to sell within two weeks or less and the sellers usually get multiple calls within hours of positing their plane and have people come and look at it a few days later. They feel zero pressure to scan the logs or to take any other additional efforts.
I feel that if it is an attractive offer, there is nowhere near enough time for endless back and forth by e-mail, phone calls, consultation or to schedule a thorough pre-buy inspection by a third party.

Because of our poor experience with mechanics and because things tend to happen fast, when it’s a good deal, I try to educate myself as much as possible and make my own call.

What is your experience? How do you go about buying a plane?