There are plenty of honest aircraft dealers out there … and there are exceptions, too. Honest dealers work to get you the right plane, at a price that will be profitable for them and affordable for you. Their goal is simple: to assure you are a happy customer, and that your aircraft purchase is everything but painful.
THE OTHER DEALERS. In this case, we’ll talk about a dealer named Rick, who tried to pull a fast one on me while I was looking for my first plane. Actually, it was more than one “fast one,” but fortunately, luck and intuition were on my side. …That might have had something to do with that fact that Rick was known to a percentage of the population as “Tricky Rick.”
THE AIRPLANE BOOK. In our first encounter, Rick called and said that he had a beautiful Cessna 172 for sale that he wanted to show me. I grabbed my airplane book and headed out to the airport. My airplane book was something of a journal where I kept a factual record about the aircraft I saw. The book included aircraft type, N-number, owner’s name, the asking price, and any problems I had identified during the inspection. By noting the problems, I would be ready to negotiate for the right price if I decided I wanted to buy the plane. So far, it was Aircraft Looked at 20, Aircraft Bought 0, but I had viewed a few lemons in my travels. That is why I was surprised when I got to the airport, because I could have sworn that I had seen this airplane before.
The plane was more than familiar — I had looked at it before. The “tell” was in the radio stack — someone had installed corrugated fiberglass in a space between radios. The green wavy panel looked really funky, and there I was, looking at it again. I pulled out my airplane book, and looked over the particulars. The radios were exactly as I recalled them — ratty, but serviceable. The paint was fair, rating a Blue Book 6 at best. The interior had seen better days … and a bit too much sun.
I walked around to the front of the plane, and took a hard look at the prop. My notes stated that one tip of the prop was bent from a past impact with plywood that had been sucked up into the prop during an engine runup. I was pleasantly surprised to see the prop was now straight, and came with a fresh coat of paint. Still, I checked with Rick for details.
NOT ALL THINGS SAID LOUDLY ARE TRUE. Rick came on with the full court press. “Isn’t she a beauty? Yep, I can get you into this plane for a price that can’t be beat!” Rick was beaming. I asked about the aircraft’s damage history, but he insisted that there was none to be found. I probed further, and asked about prop overhauls. Rick insisted that nothing had been done with the prop, and that there was nothing in the logs on the subject.
GETTING NERVOUS YET? At this point, I had invested nearly an hour in the plane and trip out, so I cut to the chase. I let Rick in on what I knew, and asked him why I should still be interested. Rick insisted that I had the “wrong plane,” then got angry when I showed him my airplane book that had the N-number of the exact plane he was showing, along with the notation on the bent prop.
HONESTY, TAKE TWO… From there, Rick changed his tune to indicate that he knew the prop was bent, but that it had been repaired. I mentioned that the previous owner had offered me a ride with the prop bent, but that I had declined. Rick insisted that it wouldn’t have been a problem to fly the plane. I thought about how the prop would fly with a bent tip. The loads on each blade would be different, so the loads on the prop flange would be abnormal … as would loads on the crankshaft. How many hours had that plane flown with a bent prop?
Rather than expose myself to any further abuse or risk, I started heading towards the door. Rick continued unabated, telling me that I was passing up a good plane, and that it would be a long time before I would see another one at this price. I let it all flow by me, and headed to the car.
I WAS LUCKY. As a first-time buyer, taking notes about the planes I looked at was more of an exercise to collect my thoughts than anything else. If I had not kept those notes, I might have missed this little con game, and become a victim of it. While I can’t say that the prop or flange ever failed, I sleep just a little better at night knowing that if it does, I won’t be the pilot sweating behind it.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH DEALERS:
- LISTEN TO YOUR HEAD. If you have concerns that you are getting too hard of a sell, walk away.
- BRING A FRIEND WHO KNOWS AIRPLANES. There is strength in numbers — discussing your ideas and concerns with a friend means having someone working for you, instead of WORKING YOU.
- KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU LOOK AT. This doesn’t have to be crazy. A sheet of paper with blanks to fill out, and space for concerns or notes works fine.
BOTTOM LINE: It is your job to make sure an aircraft dealer doesn’t take you to the cleaners. There are many, many ethical dealers out there, who wouldn’t dream of treating a customer the way this guy did. However, Rick and others like him are out there, and as long as they are you’ll need to keep your guard up. The aircraft you purchase needs to be right for you, and not just a convenient sale for the dealer!