I'm getting ready to buy an airplane from someone I really trust. Is a pre-purchase inspection really necessary?
This is an easy answer…. YES!! Always, always, ALWAYS conduct a pre-purchase evaluation. The purchase of an airplane is a significant investment. Even if you are looking at older Cessna 172 for $25,000, the cost of a failed engine, or major structural failure due to unreported corrosion could easily cost that much again, or even more!
The FAA does not define what a “pre-purchase inspection” consists of. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation as to what makes the most sense. A lot of people might recommend to you to do what they
consider to be a pre-purchase inspection. Typically this includes obvious things like a compression test, cutting open the oil filter, opening up a couple of panels, and maybe some light logbook research. Unfortunately this approach covers so very little of the airplane, and there could be many, MANY other areas of significant concern that get overlooked.
The best pre-purchase evaluation is to conduct a complete Annual inspection on the aircraft you are considering purchasing. Do not use a maintenance shop chosen by the seller. And most importantly, do NOT use the same mechanics that have been maintaining the airplane for years to do this inspection. They are not working for you at that point, they are working for the previous owner and themselves. By doing this you will know that ever single thing on the airplane has been looked at and tested. You will know exactly where your prospective new airplane stands in relation to maintenance and safety. And you will have a firm understanding of what you are buying, alleviating any surprises for you down the road. On many occasions customer have come to us for their first Annual inspection only to discover that their aircraft needs $10,000 worth of work to be airworthy. In every case where this has happened the same story applies: they either did a cursory pre-purchase using the former owner’s usual mechanic, or they just accepted that the airplane had an Annual inspection a month or two ago, and it looked pretty clean, so it must be good. Don’t fall for this trap and end up owning someone else’s problems.
There is always the risk that you will conduct a full Annual inspection and that the purchase will not go through for whatever reason. You will be out the cost of the Annual inspection, which is unfortunate. But this cost pales in comparison to what you COULD be out without the pre-purchase Annual. Think of it as preventative maintenance for your wallet. In the end you will have an airplane you know you can trust for
many years to come.