What to Look For?
For first time aircraft buyers, buying an airplane can be a rewarding accomplishment. However it can also become a hassle if you don’t quite understand what exactly to look for.
Engine Time – When looking at engines you want to look at their time since major overhaul (SMOH) or since factory remanufacture (SFRM). Up until 1968 Cessna equipped their 172’s with a Continental engine who’s TBO (time before overhaul) is 1800 hours versus the latter Lycoming engines who’s TBO is 2000 hours.
What does all of this mean? A TBO is the recommend complete engine overhaul time, a procedure that costs roughly 16,000-30,000 depending on your engine. Now that’s not to say an engine can’t over over TBO, I’ve flown some 172’s with 2600 hours on the engine!
Look for a lower time engine, it will not only hold it’s value longer but it will give you a little bit more peace of mind as well.
Airframe Time – TTAF (total time airframe) will come up quite a bit in your search for an airplane it is simply defined as the total time since that aircraft was built. This is commonly overlooked but is something to look at. If you come across what you think may be the deal of a lifetime chances are the aircraft has high TTAF. This hurts valuation and can give you a brief history of what the aircraft was used for. I’ve seen quite a few 172’s with TTAF in upwards of 12,000! That can usually mean one thing, that aircraft was used in a flight school. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but would you rather an airplane that has been stalled, spun, and landing hard most of it’s life? I wouldn’t! If possible try and avoid high time aircraft, usually if you can find an airplane in the 3,000-6,000 TTAF range that will be a fairly safe bet.
Paint and Interior – Aircraft paint and interiors are rated on a scale from 1-10, 10 being brand new, 1 being it barely has seats in it! The only problem with this scale is that the aircraft owners make it up as they go along. What paint job may be considered a 5 by you, the owner calls an 8! Be careful with paint and interior as it is easy to cover up hidden things like corrosion. Be aware that a new paint job on a 172 is around 5,000-10,000 and interior is 4,000-9,000 depending on how creative you get.
Avionics – When purchasing any airplane it is important to make sure it is equipped for the type of flying you want to do. It is more cost effective to buy an aircraft with everything you want already in it then to purchase it later and have it installed. Example: If you wanted to purchase a Garmin 430 for your aircraft it may cost you 12,000 dollars after install, however that Garmin 430 only adds about 6,000-7,000 dollars to your aircrafts value. Fair? Maybe not. But look for aircraft that already has what you want. There’s nothing wrong with being picky.
After you’ve established everything and found what you think is the right airplane it’s time to look at the finer details.