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Thread: Buying options

  1. #1

    Buying options

    Hi everyone,

    I'm a low time (150 hrs) VFR pilot looking to get a plane for IFR training and cross country travel. I've been a member of BAC (lurking in the BACkground : - ) for a little over a year now and pretty much have my mind set on a Sundowner (the wife wants a 2nd door). I got a chance to fly one earlier this year and LOVED it.

    My real question relates to what to buy. I am currently comparing two nice Sundowners:
    1) a '78 with a timed-out (> 2100 SMOH, comps: 68, 74, 76, 76) engine, AP and Apollo GPS...on the other side of the country.
    2) an '83 with a low time (< 600 SMOH) engine, but without the AP and GPS... a 45 minute drive away.

    Both are fairly clean and have about 5500 hours on the airframes and are $40K to $45K.... opinions anyone??!?


    === update 7/26 12:45PM PDST: links to the planes in question ===



  2. #2
    Hi Eric,

    Last year I was in a similar situation getting ready for my IFR rating and deciding if I was going to keep renting or purchase. Long story short we purchased a 1981 Sierra. It is an excellent flying airplane with great control feel, comfortable and very economical when it comes to fuel consumption (~10 gallons per hour/ 125 -130 TAS).

    My word of advice as a new owner who paid the price of a 1100 SMOH/3000TT aircraft to have to overhaul the engine 55 hours after purchase is to get an outstanding pre-buy inspection from a reputable mechanic.

    Make sure you go through with the mechanic the airframe and engine logbooks extensively and find out how much the planes have been flown. A plane that does not get flown very much is an unhappy plane and is going to need work.

    Compression readings of 68, 74, 76, 76 sound great and an engine like that may have another 1000 hours on it before TBO. (TBO is a recommendation for overhaul -- I believe a commercial operation must comply with TBO times though). Was the aircraft flown a lot? My plane had about the same compression at pre-buy that the '78 there has. The problem was some mechanic used proseal (silicon sealant meant for fuel tanks) on the jugs. This is very, very bad. The mechanic that did my pre-buy should probably have seen the proseal that was smushed out on the 2 right cyclinders.

    My point is that just because compression numbers appear great, doesn't mean everything is a go. Be very skeptical.

    Autopilot -- for our test flights (we did serveral) the autopilot was fine. When we flew it home within 20 minutes it stopped working. To repair it will cost around $2000.00.

    The nice part about the Sundowner is you do not need to worry about a retractable landing gear. A retractable landing gear is nice for obivous reasons, but the downside is they need maintenance, as I found out today (there is a leak somewhere, will find out Monday).

    I think both of these will need work, all planes do (As I have learned, I was so naive a year ago and wish I was lurking this sight before I purchased). The good thing is you are lurking and I can tell you to get the plane as inexpensive as possible. I am not familiar with the market value of the Sundowner. But a plane that is above TBO should be priced accordingly. Is 40-45K market value for Sundowner with a TBO+ powerplant? I'm not sure. If you buy it, make sure you get the right price. You then can go and have whoever you choose overhaul it and have a really nice plane at 0 SMOH.

    I wonder about the 600 SMOH 1983. I remember thinking I still had half the time till TBO to overhaul. I paid the price for a half time engine and found out it had 55 hours left. Check the logbooks on the 600 hour engine. What year was it overhauled? Was it more than 12 years? If so, you probably should just consider needing an overhaul. Also, has it been flown regularly?

    As far as the GPS and autopilot, what about the other avionics? Com and Nav radios up to par? You want to use this machine to fly into clouds where your instuments are your lifeline. make sure that the Nav recivers work correct and the indicators move fluidly. What about the AI? bearings good? DG - does it precess on your test flight? Bearings good? When was the filter last changed between the vacuum pump and the instruments (this can tell you about the upkeep of the instruments -- we found mine was last changed in 1986 -- 23 years ago!!!). Make sure your pre-buy takes a look behind the panel and checks the dates on these things (hopefully the dates are recorded on the lines, if not, watch out -- someone was not taking care and who knows what else was overlooked).

    Anyway, I feel like I am repeating myself a lot in this response, it's late and I feel like ranting. I must emphasize to get a very good pre-buy conducted by a very reputable mechanic. I think BAC has some very reputable mechanics and can help you out in that department. Remember that they may be asking 45K for their bird when it is not worth that much. Get them down on the price and use that money for goodies like a GPS and Autopilot!

    Good luck and stick with the BAC aircraft because they are great, but get a great pre-buy (yeah I know one more time)...

  3. #3
    If you have not done so, look under the "Technical" for "File Downloads" then find the article "Pre-Purchase Inspection Guidelines." This and other articles on the site will help you immensely.

    I don't know that much about Sundowners specifically but I would say not to be too concerned about a plane far from your home base. If it turns out to be the better of the two, flying the plane home can be a real learning experience and adventure. I live in Salt Lake City and bought my Sierra from a gentleman in South Carolina....I still recall the fun of the trip home and some great, totally-focused-on-the-plane quality time! That was 15 years ago!!!

    Good luck with your purchase!
    Chris L.
    Salt Lake City, UT

  4. #4
    This appears to be a perfect time to purchase an aircraft. The market is still depressed and the economy is recovering.

    Every aircraft is a project. I have never seen an aircraft that did not need some work or at least some customization/modification to meet the owners' mission/desires. So, buy the aircraft at the right price to assist you in making those modifications, to make it the right aircraft for you. Buy the best aircraft for you, the one closest to fitting your needs.

    I personnally like a/c #1, but at a healthy $15K to $20K discount, because at 2100 HSMOH, it needs not only an overhaul, but a serious FireWall Forward. Pilots say, "The compressions are all very good!" Bill, the mechanic says, "Well, what about the crank bearings? Are you going to just wear them down until a bearing retaining pin scores and scraps the crank or you spin a main journal bearing and ruin the case and the crank???" What about all of those butt busting (airplane accident inducing) worn out accessories and hoses??? But the compressions were still good, right! The AP and GPS are old. This guy has flown the good/value out of this aircraft and is not going to spend the $30K to make it right again. But if purchased for the right price you can! And you can know and trust what is under the cowl!!!

    I like aircraft #2 also, it has <600 HSMOH. How many years is that? The same comments apply as stated above. And was Lycoming SI 1485A complied with? If not was the valve wobble test performed at 400 hours? Were the mags done at 500 hours? How old are the accessories, hoses and ducts? I like this aircraft and it is close to you, I like that. You can have more time to really dig into it and find everything out about it.

    Welcome to BAC!!! You have made several wise dicisions, joining BAC and purchasing one of these great aircraft!!!


  5. #5
    Lots of good advice here already. Need lots more detail in order to valuate the autopilot, GPS, and the engine status of both planes.

    Some off-the-cuff observations:

    - If you buy a plane without an AP, but will want or need one (primarily for IFR travel), in a Sundowner you'll be limited to a Century or STEC. I suspect that the least expensive option will likely set you back at least $6,000, and probably more. So if you'll need an AP, get a plane that already has one. Or at least understand the choice you are making.

    - Ditto on GPS. If you will want or need a panel-mount, IFR-certified, WAAS-certified GPS, find a plane that has one already. You are probably looking at $10,000 minimum to get a refurbished used one installed; and it could go as high as $15,000. The GPS decision factors include 'enroute only', 'enroute and terminal', 'enroute, terminal, and non-precision approach', and 'enroute, terminal, non-precision and LPV approach approved'. If you want to end up with a truly IFR-capable airplane for travel to almost any airport under low ceilings, the LPV capability has become a must-have. There are already far more GPS WAAS-based LPV near-precision approaches than there are ILS approaches, and the number rises daily. This will be the ILS-like approach that gets you into thousands of small airports that will never have an ILS. Even when the precision approach isn't really needed because of weather, it is by far the safest way to get into unfamiliar airports that have nearby obstructions or terrain.

    - You need to assess the instrument panel as a whole, not just the GPS. Still have a KT76 or KT76A transponder? Expect it to require replacement with a completely different model within a year or two (cost: $2,000-$3,000 or more). How about the Comm-nav radios? Old original KX170B's? You'll be fixing or replacing them within a couple of years (cost can vary widely). How about the audio panel? Does it have an integral intercom? If not you'll probably want to upgrade it when you start traveling (music inputs, pilot/crew isolate, etc.). Don't forget the status of the engine instrument cluster and the other flight instruments. All the cluster instruments should work, and give proper indications. The oft-stated claim that 'fuel gauges never work' reflects convenient ignorance. Getting the fuel gauges indicating properly can cost as little as $200 for some bonding jumpers; or it could cost as much as $2,000 for overhauled gauges and tank fuel level senders. The other cluster gauges will run about $200 per unit plus labor, to have them overhauled. There are five gauge units in the cluster.

    - The post-TBO engine WILL need an overhaul, and probably sooner rather than later. That cylinder showing 68 is certainly 'legal', but I don't know where it is leaking. It is common for Lycomings to have compressions in the high 70s well past TBO. That one cylinder is leaking somewhere; and I suspect that it is fouling the lower spark plug (or plugs). You can get around that for a while by using fine-wire spark plugs in the bottom positions. If the leak is in the exhaust valve, it will worsen fairly rapidly. With so many hours on the engine, anything that creates a need to work on or change cylinders is probably going to precipitate a major overhaul. If you were buying the plane to keep it for a year while training, then re-sell it, it might be worth the gamble. If you are buying it to use and enjoy for the foreseeable future, you'll get nickel-and-dimed on the engine, and will be worrying about it all the time. When you cave in and do the overhaul, you are probably looking at $20,000 with all the accessories properly overhauled as well.

    - The low-time engine may be terrific or may be a complete bust. If it has been flying 75-100 hours per year since the major, AND if the right parts were used (new Lycoming cylinder assemblies, new cam and lifters, etc.), AND if the Lycoming crank is safe from the current ADs, it is probably the safer bet of the two engines. If it was a field overhaul from a small shop, with reused major parts (cylinders, pistons, cam, etc.), and the OH was done fifteen years ago, it will be just as bad off inside as the high-time engine. You have to have the details on the parts used and the repairs performed, and who built the engine during the overhaul, in order to assess the engine status.

    - If these planes are priced at $40,000-$45,000, that normally is not nearly wide enough a disparity to reflect one having a run-out engine. Much as I hate to say it, the numbers also sound high for today's market, unless the aircraft with the low-time engine also has outstanding avionics and instruments. Make sure you run some numbers on AOPA's valuator, once you have more detail about the planes, to help you better assess the pricing.

    - If you are wise, you will take the pre-buy work-list on BAC, to heart. A valid pre-buy on a plane that is thirty years old needs to be the most thorough Annual Inspection that the plane has ever had. For example, neither of these planes has rear seat ventilation ducts that run under-floor; but BOTH have rear seat heat ducts that DO run under-floor. At a minimum, the status of the under-floor, instrument panel, and front pedestal ducts MUST be verified. If they are original black CAT/CEET ducts, there WILL be corrosion to some degree in some places, on airframe and brake lines. If they are new red-orange SCEET ducts, that's good news; but you still have to have the airframe and brake lines checked for un-repaired or improperly repaired corrosion. We have had planes in at KLUX that contained new ducts, but which had serious corrosion that wasn't fixed. This includes brake lines and retract gear lines that subsequently failed, at corrosion spots that went untreated. The seller should be willing to split the cost of a really serious inspection. He should also be willing to fund (up front or via pricing discount) airworthiness-related repairs (as opposed to cosmetic repairs). Regardless, it is far better to spend (and even lose) $1,000 up front, than to face ten times that much a year later when it's all yours.

    - And I have to say that, assuming you follow the advice about a premium pre-buy inspection, it is a mistake to buy the cheapest plane you can find. I don't mean that you should find a way to pay more for an equivalent plane. But if you find a plane that has all the avionics, nav and autopilot equipment, paint, interior, etc. that you will ever want for your your future missions; and the evidence reflects premium maintenance under its current owner; then that plane is absolutely worth paying a premium to get. You might pay $10,000 more for such a plane. But in exchange you will get the equivalent of $50,000 in already-completed and proven upgrades, precluded maintenance needs, etc. Almost any upgrades that you plan to carry out later on will cost you three to six times more than getting them in a newly-purchased plane.

  6. #6
    Eric, like I said, I wish I was a member here before my purchase, the advice on this forum is really indispensable. The $2000 I will spend repairing my autopilot is a lot less expensive than installing a new system altogether. Just make sure you know what you are getting -- the only way is to get a thorough pre-buy (I know I said it again...)

  7. #7

    I may have a third alternative close to the same price range in the middle of the country.

    I have a '77 Sundowner, Mid time engine with great compressions (<900 hrs), completely KLUXed, very few deffered maintenance items, low time airframe, new gear donuts, IFR GPS, Stec 50 w/alt hold and GPSS steering, brand new interior with new soundproofing and leather seats, new side windows, newer windscreen, etc. Email me if you might be interested.


  8. #8
    Thanks to everyone who has replied so far. Please feel free to keep 'em coming, I can use all the advice you've got.

    Also, I just posted the links to the planes on (up in the main topic area) so you can get a look at what I'm seeing.

    Again, thanks for the advice and for such a great forum.

    - Eric

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