Buying A Plane

Buying A Plane
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  Consider these items when buying a plane.

If you are buying your first plane you should be really excited.  Don't let that excitement blind you to not seeing "your" plane for what it really is.  The excitement is huge.  And it can make you less likely to make a reasonable decision.  Do your homework and you should get an even deal.  The "even deal" is where you get just about the plane you felt you were buying and you pay just about what the unemotional buyer would pay.

There is no such thing as a cheap plane that is perfect.  No project plane will ever get done in the time or dollars allowed for in the first estimate.  Not many projects get done during the second estimated time either.

There is a process to buying a plane.  This listing is not complete, but it will give you a starting point.  If you have bought several planes you will cut to the chase and short cut several of these steps.

1)  I recommend joining AOPA  They really do a good job of supporting General Aviation and getting valuable services and information to us.  One of their services (free to members) is a value or pricing for specific planes online.  They also have a cost to own calculator online.

2) Look at many times several copies of Trade A Plane.  Or subscribe and use their online searching.

Once you have found a plane that you feel is right for you.

Call and talk with the person selling the plane.  They should be able to tell you what it looks like, it's general condition, and if the logs are complete, current, and contiguous.  There is an art to readying log books.  I won't go into it all here but I have seen log books that told me a plane had been totaled while the seller stayed quiet on the subject.  Sees as how a snow plow hit the plane and the then current owner wanted to collect on insurance so he "totaled" the plane.  A wing was replaced or maybe not.  Well, it was not in the logs, but a gap in the maintenance schedule told me something had to happen.  The seller should have been upfront in this case (but he may not have known until he got the plane).  Have all the AD's been complied with?

Get the N number and then go to one of the online databases and see who owns the plane.  Be aware this data can be many months old. or is a good place to start.

If it meets with your phone and research approval, then go take a look.

If it is too far for the parties to get together, then have a local person or mechanic take a look for you.  A mechanic could also perform a compression test and look at the oil filter.  This needs to a truly uninvolved third party to be of any value.  If it is the mechanic that has been working on the plane for the last three years - he will be bias.  It may be a good idea to talk with the mechanic that has been maintaining the plane too.  You should be paying this person not the seller.

You will want to check out all the avionics, brakes, tires, condition of everything etc. before you pay for the plane.  This sounds like a no-brainer while you are reading this now, but what about when you see that perfect deal and you want to buy it before someone else gets this deal.

Go for a test flight.  Either with the owner or with an instructor.  Ask the instructor if the avionics will work for your intended use.  VFR only is different than IFR training or real IFR flight.

Everyone wants the newest GPS Radios with all the goodies.  It will be cheaper to buy the plane with the avionics you need already installed.  Rarely do you get back the full cost of upgrading avionics.

If it looks good, do a title search (again AOPA is a good resource here) to make certain who owns the plane and make your deal.

I have not heard many stories of buyers paying for planes only to learn later that someone else owned the plane.  But I leave this to your comfort level with the seller and your pocketbook.  At the low end maybe you could walk away and not be hurt.  At the high end maybe the dealer is so reputable that your not worried.  Or maybe you should use a real escrow agent.  Your bank, AOPA, your attorney, not their attorney, not their bank (unless it is a well known bank).  You want to have the money until the bill of sale and the airplane, in the condition you agreed, is delivered to you.  Then the seller gets paid.

You may not want to be the first person to fly your new plane.  Are you kidding me?  Nope.  Unless you have experience in this airplane you will be better off having an instructor or someone knowledgeable in this airplane help get you up to speed.  On my first airplane I took delivery in the afternoon at a not too distant airport.  I debated but took an instructor with me.  We didn't settle up until 9pm.  The flight back to my airport was easy with the instructor, but I would not have wanted to do my first flight in this airplane at night.

Insurance.  I had prearranged to get insurance prior to buying the plane.  The insurance broker worked with me on this one.  I was told once that if you have auto insurance and you buy a new car, you will be insured for the same limits on your new car for a short period of time until you notify the insurance company.  I have found out that not much in the auto insurance industry carries over to aviation.  Get coverage before or during your purchase.

Once I had the plane at my airport and it belonged to me -  WOW!!!  I carried the airplane keys on my key ring everywhere. - WOW!!!

I made a few, not so good, first flights.  I then spent two hours in the plane on the ground with the POH (Pilots Operating Handbook).  I used the POH as a reference and touched and read about every instrument and dial in the plane.  This may seem a little extreme, but, I guess I have to tell you.

Ok I did this only after I flew to a distant airport - what a great flight - in MY AIRPLANE.  I landed, ordered fuel, and left the airport to do some business.  When I returned there was gas on the blacktop.  My left wing tank was not full, as I had asked and they must have put oil in the plane because it was now over full.

How could these guys be so dumb?  I went in to get this worked out with the FBO.  They did put the fuel in and they did not touch the oil.  The bill only showed fuel and no oil.  I still didn't believe them.  I asked politely to have the lineman walk out to the plane with me so I could show him.  He didn't really have a clue expect to point out that the fuel was still dripping from the right tank.  At this point I got it.  The plane was parked slightly uphill with with the right wing low.  I had left the fuel selector on both - and with the crossover open the high, left, wing drained into the lower, right, wing and out the overflow.  Lesson learned:  When fueling put the fuel selector in the off position.  ( I would later learn it was better to put it in the left or right position and not in the off position - you can make your own assumptions).  But why would they put oil in the plane when asked not too and not charge me.  It was only about a quart over and I figured it wouldn't hurt the flight home.  It didn't.

And then the radios quit working before I could even take off.  I got the ground controller, but once I was at the runway I could not raise the tower.  I tried a lot too.  I taxied back to the FBO with the intention of calling the tower.  While on the way back I got the ground controller again and he said the tower heard me but I never responded.  Most of my previous flying was done in a plane with one radio.  And it seems that the audio panel is not magic - it does what you tell it to.  The radios worked well after that.

The oil mystery was solved a few flights later.  I could not get a good reading on how much oil the plane was using.  It is supposed to use oil.  I even found a calculator that told me how much based on horse power and number of cylinders.  But the readings were not consistent.  I asked the mechanic and he asked how was I checking.  Well with the dip stick dummy.  And he said and how level is the plane when you check.  The oil dip stick is at the back left of the engine sump and if the nose strut is low or high or the plane is parked up or down hill, the oil quantity can vary be over a quart and a half just by moving the plane by hand.

Know your plane and really really enjoy it.