Monday, April 28, 2008

Buying: Searching for our Plane (C182)

I wanted to jot down some of our experiences of searching for our Cessna 182. My wife helped out quite a bit on the search and we missed out on one plane and ended up buying the second plane we were interested in.

What to Look For

So we had decided on a Cessna 182, but what year and what were the tradeoffs. I went to the Cessna Pilot's Association for more information. They have a publication for prospective 182 owners. I also became a member of the association and asked some questions. People were very helpful there. I am still a member and continue to learn just about every day something about Cessnas.

Where to Search

We looked both locally and on the internet. For internet places we look at: ASO.COM, global plane search, trade a plane, My Plane, Aerotrader, Wings On-line. For local situations, I went to local airports and asked around and looked at bulletin boards. I have heard of people sending out letters to local people using the FAA database of planes, but I did not go that far.

Finding Planes and Asking Questions

Before starting to make all the calls for potential, I put together a list of questions I would ask each of the sellers. As much as I could I asked the same questions so that I could compare them well. I added a few over time when somebody volunteered information that sounded interesting to ask others.

  • TBO, total time
  • Last annual, how many hours per month flown in the past couple years.
  • Oil consumption, compressions, any oil analysis reports?
  • Avionics (Autopilot, GPS and if it is IFR approach capable)
  • Any damage history (sometimes it is hidden, so it is good for an A&P to look over logbooks)
  • Location during its life (is it located in near a coast with corrosion concerns?)
  • Hangared or not.
  • Any corrosion: Very big having a good airframe.
  • Send pictures. Enough pictures to see condition of interior/exterior.
  • Send maintenance logbook information if getting serious.

Sometime a high time engine that has been regularly flown can be a good deal. The cost of the plane will be reduced due to a possible overhaul. If it has been flown well and maintained there is a chance it will make it past TBO which can work out well.

A low time engine that has not been flown a lot maybe very susceptible to needing an overhaul.

I would stay away from recent damage history. I have heard that old damage history can be ok depending on what happened and how it was repaired. If it happened a long time ago, it is thought that any problems after the repair would have appeared.

In general, if there are features (especially avionics) that you think you will want after you buy the plane, buy the plane with them. It will cost much more money to add an autopilot or other large cost avionics afterwards than buy a plane with the autopilot you want. The installation costs for avionics are very high.

My wife called many, many people and wrote down many, many answers. She was a big help.

Finding the First Plane

Many people say don't buy the first plane you get excited about. That happened to us. It is hard to say if that was good or bad. In the end we did end up with a better plane, but it was a little more expensive.

I can see the point about waiting for just the right plane. It is important to be able to walk away for a significant problem. It is easy to get excited, and I could see downplaying a significant problem. What seems small (a muffler) can end up costing $4000 to repair quickly when it ends up being an entire exhaust system. An engine overhaul is even more. Or even worse, a corrosion problem which can just about make a plane worthless.

I think we did a decent prebuy, and our three annuals were over $4000 a piece on catch up problems and cylinder repairs.

The first plane we found was in Oregon and we had somebody in CPA look it. It looked good and the price seemed reasonable. Right when we were working out the prepurchase agreement, the broker indicated the seller sold to somebody else without him. Grrr!!

Negotiating price

Prices can vary a lot. It depends on interior, exterior, avionics, TBO, and other factors. Some appraising tools show prices high than others. Trade-a-Plane NAAA seemed reasonable to me if you entered all the avionics information, but I balanced that with AOPA Vref and the Aeroprice software appraisal program. Then you just have to figure out what this plane is worth to you. It makes it easier if you are ok with walking away from the deal.

Finding the Plane to See

After you think you have found your plane, there are a number of things left to do.
  • Prebuy inspection
  • Do AOPA title search.
  • Prebuy agreement

The prebuy inspection is very important. Make sure you do not get the seller to arrange the mechanic. Preferrably you find a local mechanic to look at the plane. Through Cessna Pilots Association, you can get ideas of mechanics to look at it as well. It should be somebody you feel you can trust not associated with the seller, and you are paying. It will cost, but most things you find should be potential negotiating or fixing points with the seller.

AOPA is a great resource for the title search and prebuy agreement.

We bought our plane from out of state which makes some things hard. We had to buy a plane ticket to go sign the final deal. If things had not gone well, it would have been very aggravating. But better to lose the price of a plane ticket than have costly repairs.

The next plane we found was in Houston, Texas. It was right in line with what I wanted, but a little more money than I wanted. Isn't that the way it always is?? Well we worked it out to be agreeable, and we had the prepurchase inspection and agreement in place. Nothing major was found and couple of things were fixed. We bought round trip tickets (just in case) and planned a return flight in our potential future plane. We landed at Bush International and took a van over to the General Aviation terminal. There we met the seller's friend and the plane. It was everything we expected. We flew it back to Beaumont, Texas to check out the plane and work through the final paperwork.

On the flight to Beaumont, I tried using each of the avionics. It was a little challenge since I only had about 15 hours of C182 time and this was a different C182 with more gadgets. It worked out well though, and I only missed checking the ADF which of course was broken. Luckily, it was an instrument I did not care about, and I have since removed it.

Meeting the owner and signing the deal went well. They helped us get back and forth from the hotel and bought us dinner. In the morning, we taxied away as the old owner waved bye to his plane. It sounded like he really liked it, but his family did not like flying in it. It was sad. Luckily, I already knew my family liked small planes, and my wife, son and I flew back to Colorado.


We have only purchased one plane, so I highly recommend talking with other people who have planes and get their ideas and recommendations.


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