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 annual?"

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 maintenance.

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.