The rite of the "Pre-Purchase" or "Pre-Buy"
inspection has become customary when buying any plane (it wasn't
always so). If all goes well, and there are no surprises for buyer
or seller, it is customary to accept delivery and pay for the aircraft
at this time. But it is a rare pre-purchase
inspection that does not reveal some discrepancies, and the
wise buyer (and seller) expects some.
Here's a few of the questions we see over and over regarding this
procedure, along with the answers:
"Where should I get the pre-buy done?"
First: While it may seem obvious,
it happens often enough that we need to state it: Never,
Never have the pre-buy done by the shop that maintained it!!
If the sale includes a "Fresh Annual", a good examination
by a totally different shop is even more important.
Second: Get the aircraft away from it's
home base. Even if you just fly to the very next airport,
you'll always get a more objective result if the inspection is performed
by someone who doesn't know either the aircraft or the owner.
If it's possible, find a shop familiar with your particular model.
While this isn't difficult with a Skyhawk, you may have to search
around (or contact owners groups) for a Tiger or Ercoupe specialist.
The extra effort and/or expense is well worth it, as their expertise
can often save you big bucks.
"I'm in New Jersey, but I need a pre-buy
done in Texas."
If the inspection is to be done far away, take a look at our Pre-Buy
shop listing. Over the years we've collected recommendations
from other buyers/owners for shops that they've used in the past.
These are uncompensated endorsements,
and we do not accept advertising on this page. It's a good place
to find a trustworthy shop on the other side of the country! (If
you use a different one and have a good experience, please send
us an email so we can add it to the list).
"How much should it cost?"
Obviously the cost of any inspection is going to be related to
the complexity of the aircraft. For most fixed-gear, single engine
aircraft, however, a thorough pre-purchase
can easily be performed in four man-hours or less. (This
assumes average airframe time, complete logs and no damage history).
Any longer, and you might want to look for another shop- after all,
it's NOT an annual!
"Should I turn my pre-buy into an
Sometimes this is a good idea, but more often not. This is a complicated
question, and often the answer depends on many factors beyond the
scope of this article. As an overall rule, however, we
recommend against it. The purpose and scope of the pre-buy
and annual are very different, and don't always mesh smoothly. By
the way- if your shop refuses to do a pre-purchase (and will only
do an annual inspection), find another shop!
"What can I expect?"
Remember that you are buying a used airplane, and it will show
normal wear and tear. Don't get excited if a navigation light is
burnt out -- do pay attention to a cracked cylinder. In other words,
keep everything in proper perspective, considering the age and price
of your purchase.
Besides an inspection of the physical airplane,
your mechanic should inspect the logbooks for accuracy, completeness,
AD note compliance, 337 forms, and damage history.
"Airworthiness Directives", or AD notes ,are mandatory
changes, inspection, or repair instructions issued by the FAA. Some
pertain to the aircraft structure itself, while others address problems
discovered in the engine or its components. Failure
to confirm that the airplane is in current compliance with every
AD that applies to it can be a horribly expensive error.
Your mechanic has a list of applicable AD's, and should cross-check
his list against the engine and airframe logs (and propeller logs,
if there is one). Some AD's are required to be complied with as
soon as they are issued, while others are repetitive time items,
i.e., Every 500 hours or at the next annual inspection of the aircraft,
so you should also be concerned with AD's that may be due soon if
they are costly.
"Service Bulletins" are
similar items, but they are issued by the aircraft manufacturer.
Some are "mandatory", but most are recommendations, and
some develop into AD notes at a later date. A very conscientious
owner will have all of the current service bulletins performed,
as well as the AD notes, but this is rarely done for private craft.
With the results of your pre-purchase inspection in hand, it's
time to sit down and divide them up into reasonable categories.
Category 3- Small, inexpensive discrepancies that can be
addressed at any time, and are not necessary for the safe operation
of the aircraft. A cracked plastic part, or small leading edge dent
would qualify. A burnt out navigation or landing light would be
a category 3 item, not because they're not needed, but because they
are relatively inexpensive. As an owner, you should expect to be
constantly replacing or repairing these items as a matter of routine
Category 2- Those items that are currently airworthy or
usable, but will require repair/replacement at the next annual inspection.
Remember: you are buying a used aircraft, and things like tires/brake
pads will always come up for repair. Unless the item in question
(or the total of them all) is expected to be very expensive, a reasonable
buyer will accept this as part of the price of ownership
Category 1- Airworthy items than should be fixed immediately,
along with items that can be expected to be very expensive. A leaking
fuel line, or a gear system in need of bushings would fit in this
category, as would a cracked cylinder or a bad control cable.
If the pre-purchase reveals a number of category 1 items, ask your
mechanic for his best estimate of the cost to repair each, and write
it down on your list.
Many sellers are unaware of many of the discrepancies found during
the pre-purchase inspection, while others are just hoping to slip
by. As a buyer, you now have three choices:
|1. You can buy the aircraft as
is, with appropriate adjustments to the price.
|2. You can refuse the aircraft, or
|3. You can work out an equitable arrangement
with the seller.
Since buyers and sellers are both at the end of a very long road,
most choose to work out an arrangement that will allow everyone
involved to consummate the deal agreeably.