A Prepurchase Inspection Can Be An Annual Inspection, But It’s Usually Not That Thorough

by Pete Schoeninger
Copyright 2021. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine August/September 2021 online issue

Therefore, Buyers Need To Be Realistic If Their Mechanic Misses Something.

Q: What’s the latest on the used airplane market?

A: From what I see and hear, the market continues strong as we come out of the Covid mess.  I think the reasons for a strong market have some parallels to the strong market for used cars. It is my opinion that a good used Cessna (or Piper, or Beech, or Cirrus) will probably continue to be a good investment unless our whole economy goes south.

More specifically, older Cessna 172s (1956 to mid-1970s) have jumped in value roughly $10 grand in the last several months. I suspect what happened is that the buyer who was looking for a $50K late 1970s C 172 found those prices had jumped, so those buyers began grabbing older ones, driving up their price as well. Other changes, according to the Summer 2021 edition of the Aircraft Bluebook (www.aircraftbluebook.com), include late model V 35B Bonanzas jumping in value $10 grand or so, the same with older Cessna 206s, and older Cirrus aircraft.

Q: I have heard that some aircraft mechanics will no longer do a prepurchase inspection? Is this true, and if so, why?

A: Yes, true. There is no legal definition of a prepurchase inspection. Some mechanics may feel (sometimes correctly) that a prospective buyer is looking for a complete review of the prospective purchase by paying only for a couple hours of inspection time. If, after the airplane is purchased, significant hidden problems or paperwork issues are found that were not discovered during a brief prepurchase inspection, the new owner may hold the mechanic responsible. In other words, the reward of a few hours of revenue may not be worth the risk – or hassle – of missing an item or two.

Q: I have noticed my recently acquired Skyhawk wants to turn a bit to the right on landing roll and while taxiing. Could my main wheels be out of alignment?

A: Possibly, but unlikely. In my experience, the very simple cause is that one tire has lower air pressure than the other. Service your two main tires to the same recommended air pressure and see what happens.

You can do a primitive tire alignment test yourself in 5 minutes, or a better test in 30 minutes, as follows, if your wheel pants are off: Put the tab of a tape measure in the center tread of the front of the tire and measure the distance to the front of the other main tire. Then do the same for the rear of the tires. You should find the measurement about the same, or possibly showing a little toe in. But if your tires are worn, or lumpy, here is the half-hour test: Clamp a 4 ft straight edge to the brake disc on each side. Then measure the distance just ahead of the wheels, and at the end of the 4 ft straight edges. If you find a significant difference, or correcting tire pressure does not cure your problem, it is time to consult your mechanic.

Q: Everybody knows Beech made a few aerobatic Bonanzas, models E 33C and F 33C about 50 years ago. A friend told me a few of the Sundowners around 1970 were also aerobatic legal. He said you can tell aerobatic versions because of a slightly different paint scheme. Is he right?

A: CAUTION! Paint has no structural properties. I have seen a Sundowner repainted with the aerobatic scheme that was NOT an aerobatic legal airplane! The Pilot’s Operating Handbook should be used to determine aerobatic certification. Beech added an aerobatic kit during construction to some airplanes, but to only a few. Be cautious. 

Q: A friend asked me to take her for a ride over her newly acquired rural property. In doing so, I did a 45-degree bank, and made some slightly steeper banks for wind correction to keep us at about the same distance from her place as we circled. She turned green and almost lost lunch. Is there a better way to view an object on the surface that is less upsetting to a nervous passenger?

A: Yes, a State Patrol pilot told me about a technique he used years ago. He suggested that rather than circle a place, fly just to the left of the main attraction on a straight line, at slightly reduced power. (And don’t forget to stay at least 500 feet over sparsely populated areas, or 1,000 feet over congested areas). Doing so will give your passenger in the right seat a nice view of the place, while your airplane is in level flight. The State Patrol pilot said they used that technique to overfly a suspected crime property. They would only pass over once and keep on the same heading for several miles after passing overhead. Doing so, he felt, lessened the chances that bad guys thought the cops were looking at them.

Q: Hey Pete, I recently became a private pilot. Hooray! Now, I am being solicited to join both EAA and AOPA. Should I?

A: I strongly urge you to join at least one pilot organization… preferably both. Doing so adds your name to the clout these organizations carry when they lobby for reasonable changes and improvements from the Feds, if for no other reason. Both organizations also have knowledgeable staffs who can answer a myriad of aviation-related questions.

Q: My Cessna 172B needs its engine (Continental 145 hp) replaced and I am looking for ideas. My engine has 2400 hours since overhaul and over 5000 hours total time. It has the original cylinders on it. Now, one cylinder is shot and the other five are marginal. Clearly, it is past time for an overhaul or engine replacement. I would love to install a new 180 hp Lycoming but am concerned with even asking what that would cost. Do you have any ideas and rough cost estimates for a 180 hp conversion, or even just the cost of overhauling my present engine? I only fly about 75 hours a year, all for pleasure.

A: Overhauling your present engine with six new cylinder assemblies, and many other parts, including new hoses, baffles, accessories, and probably overhauling your propeller, will cost you roughly $25 – $30,000. Installing in a new Lycoming 180 hp engine with a new prop as well is going to cost you at least $60,000. If you are flying only 75 hours a year, putting $30K or $60K is a lot of money to sink into an airplane. At 75 hours per year, your engine will “time out” (12 years is recommended overhaul period for both engines you are considering) before it uses up its expected 2,000 or so hours. If you aren’t going to use up the full value of either engine choice, you might want to consider a used engine at half the price of overhauling your worn-out engine, if you can find one from a reputable seller. Be sure to include your mechanic in this search.

Q: I have been gifted a 1969 Cessna 172 from my recently deceased uncle. I am a pilot and have flown it a few times. Overall, the airplane is in good shape, but all the avionics are completely outdated, and I suspect even illegal to use. I will only use the airplane for simple VFR flying. What’s your guess on costs to install a basic VFR setup?

A: I spoke with Bruce Botterman, owner of NewView Technologies in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Bruce estimated perhaps $8,500 for a basic transponder with ADS-B, a com unit, and a simple GPS receiver.

Q: With fall just around the corner, any precautions or suggestions?

A: Fall is my favorite time of the year. Lots of clear, cool weather. Watch out for ground fog forming as temps drop quickly as darkness arrives. If you are not current for night flying, remember darkness approaches about a few minutes earlier every day. Each fall, pilots, who are not night current, get stuck flying with passengers after dark. Don’t be one of them! It’s not legal, and it’s not safe!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger 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. He welcomes questions and comments via email at PeterSchoeningerLLC@gmail.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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