Ways To Beat The High Cost of Replacement Parts & Avoid Mistakes In Buying A Used Airplane

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2020 issue

Q: What changes have you seen in the used airplane market since the Coronavirus Pandemic hit the U.S?

A: As I write this (mid-April 2020), it is too early to tell, but I suspect some softening of demand and thus some price adjustments.

Q: You occasionally reference researching an airplane type certificate for information. I wanted to find out about nose tire sizes on my 1976 C172M and couldn’t find anything. Where else can I look?

A: Cessna, and other manufacturers, equip each airplane with an equipment list when it leaves the factory. On your C172, your equipment list offers an itemized list of required, standard, and optional items with weights. For instance, a nose spinner is required! Wheel pants are installed standard, but you can remove them because they are not required. Dual landing lights are optional, not required, nor are they installed, but may be used to replace a single landing light.

Probably the most common changes to middle-aged C172s are the installation of updated avionics, and removal of wheel pants. Any changes in equipment should be noted in the equipment list paperwork, along with associated weight changes.

Q: Why is there a substantial jump between the asking prices of a Cessna 172L and a Cessna 172M? Aren’t they just about identical except the M model (which started in 1973) is a few years newer?

A: The C172M was the first C172 to have the wing with a new (back then) leading edge cuff. That wing reduces the stalling speed significantly. In my humble opinion, the C172M was the best pre-shutdown model on the market (Cessna shut down piston-engine production in 1987 for 10 years). It was also the last model equipped with a 12-volt electrical system (possibly to jump start from cars), and the last model with 40 degrees of flaps.

As for best airplane values, used Piper Warriors are available for substantially less money ($10,000 – $20,000) than comparable Cessna 172s, and have similar load carrying capability and performance, fuel burn, etc.

Q: Car gas in my area has dropped almost 50% in price in the last six weeks. I have not seen a drop in the price of aviation fuel. Why aren’t FBOs reducing prices?

A: Often FBOs are refueled by a tanker truck holding perhaps 8,000 gallons of 100LL. At smaller FBOs, it may take a few months to sell this load, before another load is purchased. Your local FBO might have just invested $25,000 or so in a load of gas on March 1st that may take him 2-3 months to sell. He now has two things going against him – one is fuel sales have dropped during the pandemic, and two, competitors who bought fuel after him may offer fuel at a lower price.

Q: The window latch on my Cessna 182 has seen its better days and I checked with the manufacturer and they quoted me over $1,000 for a new one. What goes? How can an aircraft owner afford such prices and what are our options other than to taxi the plane over a cliff in the Grand Canyon?

A: Instead of heading for the Grand Canyon, do an internet search for Cessna 182 window latches. There, you will find some after-market units for around $250. Before ordering one, check with your mechanic to make sure he will be okay installing your prospective new part. Hint: Maybe let your mechanic order it and make a few bucks reselling the part to you. I think he could use, and would appreciate, the business, and he knows the parts business better than you!

Q: On a recent trip to Florida in my 50-year-old Comanche, a top of the line Cirrus was flying near me, also heading south. He was higher and going faster. So, would it make economic sense to replace my $75,000 low-time, very well-maintained and updated Comanche for an airplane that costs 10 times as much, or keep the plane I currently own? Secondly, will repair bills on a brand-new airplane be less than on my old airplane over time. Thirdly, does modern technology reduce or increase maintenance costs? Fourth, would insurance cost more on the new airplane?

A: Your CPA should be involved when you are considering spending three-fourths of a million bucks on anything, especially on something that might not be tax deductible. You may, or may not be able to have Uncle Sam help you with Section 179 depreciation and other accounting matters.

Late model Cirrus aircraft have held their value pretty well. Repair bills for a new airplane should be less than maintaining one 50 years old.

Modern technology on a modern airplane should lessen maintenance costs.

Your aviation insurance professional should answer your last question, but undoubtedly, a $750K hull will have a higher premium than a $75,000 hull.

Do yourself a favor and do more homework. Comanches were good airplanes, but are now getting a little long in the tooth. Expect more maintenance and possibly difficulties in getting parts as time goes on. There is no free lunch in aviation, or anywhere else for that matter.

Q: When you were a commissioned airplane salesman, what was the easiest, and the hardest sell?

A: By far, and fairly common, was an upgrade in the same brand. For instance, a 1975 Cessna 172 owner looking at a 1975 Cessna 182. I used to take prospects to a short grass strip in a C182, then climb to 5,000 feet, trim for level flight, and then descend and land back home. That demo ride showed that the C182 had better performance than the C172 in short-field work, a better rate of climb, and was a more stable platform while cruising. More often than not that produced a sale if the C182 was sound and priced fairly, and if the prospect had the bucks to buy it. (I tried to “qualify” prospects before giving a free ride.)

The hardest sell is an airplane of any make/model, to a group which may include one naysayer who will always find something similar in an unknown condition, for sale for a few thousand bucks or so less, located five states away. Another hard one is where a group’s advisor is not qualified, but thinks he is. This may involve an older person who feels the younger buyer should not be buying an airplane in the first place, and the older person may not have much aircraft expertise. I lost a sale once on an old straight-tail Cessna 150 because an old fool told the young prospect that the straight-tailed Cessna 150s were hard to land in a crosswind. That is not true, but the young person listened to the old guy, who had never flown a straight-tail 150!

Q: My CFI said my Cherokee 180 would glide further with the engine shut down, rather than with the engine idling. He suggested that I not try it, but to just take his word for it. Is he right?

A: Yes. You can easily tell that your idling prop is adding drag to your glide by looking at your tachometer. If the ground idle speed of your Cherokee 180 is 700 RPMs, but in flight at say 80 mph at idle your prop is spinning at 1200 RPMs, that last 500 RPMS are driven by relative wind through the prop arc. Stopping the prop reduces most of the prop arc drag, thus increasing your glide path a little, but like your CFI said, don’t try it.

Q: My friends sometimes call me a tightwad, but I call myself frugal. I am looking to buy my first airplane, and I have pretty much settled on a used Mooney 201. It is important to me to find the absolute best priced 201 in the Midwest. I have responded to several ads, and hired a mechanic to look at a few, but there have always been significant mechanical issues looming that have caused me to take a pass. I am getting sick and tired (and already out over $1,500) of looking at airplanes that may need significant maintenance relatively soon. Am I nuts or is this typical?

A: Let me be blunt. The least expensive airplane to own is not the cheapest to buy. Remember my theme song: “Airplanes are held in space by $100 bills!” In the long run, you will be much better off buying a well-maintained airplane in good condition for $5,000 – $10,000 more than a cheapy. A good Mooney 201 will give you many happy hours of relatively economical cross-country travel, while a cheap one may put you in the poor house. Good luck!

Q: I am considering putting my Cessna 180 on floats. (I am lucky it has a factory-installed float kit.) I was surprised to learn that my aviation insurance will go up more than proportionately for the increase in value (airplane plus floats.) Why?

A: Sometimes a minor glitch that occurs on water ends up with a sunk airplane, or at least major damage. Thus, a $10,000 repair claim for a land plane incident might be a total loss on a floatplane, plus the cost of mandated removal from a lake by DNR regulations will be expensive too.

Q: I am about to take delivery of a 1982 Cessna 182. For sure I will be buying liability insurance, but don’t know if I need hull coverage. What do you think?

A: Insurance covers risks that you don’t want to, or can’t, handle. For some folks, a $100,000 loss might not hurt much, but for others, it would be a major wipeout. If you could not handle a total loss easily out of your pocket, you probably should buy hull insurance. If you have a loan on the purchase, the lender will require hull coverage. But a better idea than asking me would be to ask your favorite airplane insurance professional.

Q: I bought a Piper Lance three months ago, and just lost my job due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. I own the airplane free and clear (just barely!). I do not see that I will be flying the airplane at all during the next several months. I think if I put it up for sale during the pandemic, it will sell at a reduced value, so I am thinking of keeping it, locked up in my hangar. Any ideas?

A: If, for now, you decide to keep the airplane but not fly it, I would suggest two things: First, coordinate with your mechanic about engine preservative actions. Second, call your insurance agent and inquire about “ground only” coverage. That will reduce your insurance costs, but still provide some coverage for non-flying risks like theft, hangar collapse, tornado damage, etc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger appraises airplanes for estates, divorces, and partnership buyouts. He is a 40-year general aviation veteran, starting out as a line technician as a teenager, advancing through the ranks to become the co-owner and manager of a fixed base operation, and manager of an airport in a major metropolitan community. For aircraft appraisals, contact Pete at PeterSchoeningerLLC@gmail.com or call 262-533-3056 (peterschoeningerllc.wordpress.com).

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others, and refer to aircraft owner manuals, manufacturer recommendations, the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials for guidance on aeronautical matters.

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