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Buying a Cardinal

A sample pre-purchase inspection

Please note! This page was written in 2001 and was one of the first inspections I ever did. Things have changed over the years, so any current pre-purchase inspection will be much improved. But this will give you some of the flavor of what goes on. Keith Peterson.

We've all heard that good advice: before you buy, get a good pre-purchase inspection. We know it's a good idea.

But what will you really get? What is a good one and what is a poor one?

This page is a sample of a pre-purchase inspection that was, by all accounts, a pretty good one. It was also very Cardinal specific. The seller, broker and seller's mechanic (who had just signed off an annual) all commented that the inspectors 'really knew what to look for in a Cardinal.'

So this sample is offered as only one example of what you might get, or what you might specifically ask for. See if you can find the Cardinal specific items, and ask yourself whether the prepurchase inspector that you pick could find them...

The players in this example are arbitrarily named Joe, the prepurchase mechanic and Leroy, the seller's mechanic. These are not their real names, although I took the pictures and wrote the story.


To: the buyer
From: the inspection team

Have a seat, grab a cup of coffee, let's go through the story.

We had a nice flight down to the airplane, danced with thunder on the way down, worked on the airplane while a big one moved over us and flew home in smooth air. Life is good. 4.6 flight time, about 10 hours total project time.

And what about the airplane? First, it looks nice. Good 30 foot airplane, not perfect paint but it will shine up well.

Sharp readers will notice the lack of registration numbers. These were removed in post processing for the privacy of this buyer. Not that there are many with stars on the tail.. :-)

Mechanically, overall, it's a solid airplane, one worth buying. It needs TLC in several areas and the annual was done for sale of the aircraft. (Joe said use this wording, his point being that there are several areas that need more attention. In fact we left it with Leroy with the cowl off, suggesting that with his signature on the annual he might want to look at some items again.)

A rough estimate to bring it to full airworthy condition is at least $1000 and the should-do list brings the total to about $2000.

Item #3 below requires immediate action on your part, before you travel to the aircraft's location.

Must do's:

hinge.jpg 1. Broken door hinge, left top, pilots door. This is a potentially serious item, requires parts and riveting and door removal. I think I'd have your mech do this rather than Leroy.

If I had to guess what happened here, it appears that the fuse skin got pushed into the well where the door hinge hides. See the crack and stop hole? Picture that skin pushed all the way in, as it might be if it hooked the hinge assembly while the door was opened.

Trying to close the door again in that situation would put just the right stress on the hinge to cause this crack.

It might be reason to look carefully at the hinge alignment, that fuselage skin and the pivot points.

image35.jpg 2. Flaps need rigging, both up and down, it's an inch short of full travel on both ends. And the wear buttons are missing... these buttons keep the flap from wearing on the wing, probably lost in the paint job during stripping. Since the flaps are rigged not to fully retract this is not as much of an issue as it should be, but there is a risk of long-term damage to wing skins. Your guy should tackle this, not Leroy. It will be slow in cruise until the up-adjustment is completed.

3. Paperwork for the 3 bladed propeller could not be found in the paperwork packet, either an 337 and/or STC, and the seller has no idea whether he ever had it. This is a critical item. In the Chicago area we have had situations where 3 blade propellers were not deemed (by the FAA) to be certifiable for this airframe.. it is possible that this could become a major issue. The one Joe had trouble with was a Hartzell, as this one is. To our knowledge there is only one Hartzell prop like this.

If the shop who did the last gear-up work put the propeller on they may be able to help out through their local FSDO. Other FSDOs might also accept it, although Joe was told by Hartzell that they had never approved that prop for that airframe. Tricky stuff, but again if Steve's did it they should have paperwork for it, and the job was less than 3 years ago so you (or the owner) should be able to get it.

Later Note: The propeller STC record was researched with the STC supplier, who had records of this airplane which were sufficient for the need. The 337 packet was requested from the FAA. Later the original papers were found tucked into the inner pages of the POH in the airplane's seat pocket.

4. Several ADs appear not to be fully complied with:

* Precise flight standby vacuum AD (needs placard, 1st year inspection or new valve) Best bet is to replace the valve (Apx. $100)

image29.jpg * Air filter is a paper filter at 1200 hours.. AD requires replacement at 500 hours. Leroy may do this.

image55.jpg * Fuel gascolator drain AD.. there should be a pull wire to drain the gascolator but none is installed. Cheap, Leroy may be fixing this.

Curiously, Paul had a discussion with the same shop who did this airplane's last belly-in repair about this item, they removed his drain pull when they worked on his airplane, saying it was not in the manuals. Once Paul showed them the AD which requires this item they put it back on again. This was about 6 months ago. So this same shop may have removed it when they worked on this airplane 2 years ago.

* Fuel injector line AD requires that nothing be attached to injector lines, but there was an ignition wire bundle attached. Leroy should be fixing this.

Note for later readers: All these items were resolved by the seller's mechanic before the sale was completed.

5. Nose gear lock tension is too high, 22-23 lbs, should be ~18. Causes hard unlock force, easy to adjust. Leroy may address this one, Joe stressed it but its not essential. This puts stress on the gear system.

image40.jpg 6. Fuel transmitter wires were reversed.. the indicator wire was grounded, which will cause the full fuel indication mentioned. (The seller had reported the left tank 'always reads full.') It has probably been this way since the transmitter was replaced. It's amazing to see a black wire from a nearby ground connection connected to the sender, and hard to imagine a mechanic installing it wrong, not checking for function, and walking away from the job.

6. Stabilator spar bolts were loose, making the stab a little loose. Easy to tighten.

7. A small tab on the aileron, part of the doubler around the actuating rod, is bent up in such a way that it nearly interferes with the wing skin. A little twisting or air loading could lock the aileron in flight.

I tweaked it a little with my fingers, enough that it should be safe until a waxing rag or something hooks it again. Your mechanic should see what it takes to tuck this down completely.

Should do's:

image33.jpg 1. Surface filliform corrosion on many locations all over airplane. Will grow over time, become visible (and ugly) in 3-5 years. Not an airworthiness item yet, but will get worse with time, should be spot cleaned and painted soon to arrest its growth.

The $1000 estimate on this is to scrape each spot, scotch-brite it down to clean aluminum, alodine, zinc chromate and paint the spot. You might find a paint shop to re-shoot all the white afterward to keep it from looking a little spotted.

Joe stressed that this cleanup is the $1000 item, and that gets you to airworthy and stable. If you want it cosmetically perfect it will be more.

2. Engine mount showed corrosion near right muffler crossover pipe. Should be cleaned and painted. It did not look like a greater than 10% pitting but can't tell without cleaning.. it can be patched if badly pitted.

Other things to know:

Missing engine log book. Log starts in 1995 with an overhauled engine with TT3360 hours. No evidence of any factory reman, only this overhaul and the subsequent repair in '98. In no way should this log book be missing since the total time on the engine is still 4102 (?), with overhauls. Only a factory reman will give you a new log book, and even then the old book should remain. As a practical matter, however, the engine is gone through so completely that it probably does not matter much, certainly not as much as an airframe log.

As I write this I don't recall discussing the oil pump AD with Joe.. I think he must have found it in the logs but can't be sure. Certainly the 1998 overhaul should have addressed it, the law requires that it be done at overhaul in that time period so you should be able to count on that.

It's not too late to get the work order from the overhaul, which may prove to be valuable for proving this and researching any other future issues (ie possible future wrist pin or crank ADs, etc.)

image51.jpg The doors have been extensively repaired, some waviness and a patch can be seen. They could still use work on the hinges, being quite loose. The left door drags on lower frame and right door is dragging on fuse skin when opening. As a result the doors are hard to close.

The picture to the right is very hard to see, but it shows the bottom of the pilot's door where there are scratch/drag marks from dragging over the door frame.

All this may have significance for the broken door hinge issue. More reason to get the doors properly tweaked.

The belly (gear up) repairs look very good, no issues there.

image24.jpg The nose gear hoses appeared to be old, and perhaps not aviation hoses. Logs said they were both replaced in '98 but one has SAE markings and the other appears to be a stock Cessna part... and does not to our eye look like a new Cessna part. These are not expensive, worth replacing soon on general principles.

There was some oil in the cylinders, meaning the oil consumption will likely be a little higher than normal, perhaps 5-6 hours per quart. You can probably improve this by running it hard for a while and letting the rings run in solidly. They are steel nitride cylinders with some crosshatch still showing, a good thing. No signs of rust in the cylinders.

The clearance between engine mount and exhaust pipes is a little close, perhaps a sign of sagging engine mounts. It looks ok for now, some signs of touching but may be ok.. a watch item.

image62.jpg The worm gear clamp on the left muffler scat tubing (intake) is in the wrong place, will beat up engine mount in time. Details on the CFO site.

The gear warning horn did not work. The switch was hanging up slightly, Joe fixed it by twisting the pivot arm a little and freeing it up.

The heater ducts are full of insulation. Easy to fix.

A small tab on the left aileron was sticking up, nearly catching on the wing skin. I tweaked it enough to make it pretty safe, but it needed a bit more work. Leroy might work on that.

Radios all worked. It flew nicely. Autopilot controlled the airplane, not enough time to fully characterize it's function. The basics are there. Radios sounded good, inside and outside.

It was a little slow compared to the airplane we flew down in, probably due to the misrigged flaps. Looks good in the air.

There were some small baffling issues. No signs of major oil leaks.

Inner wing panels looked good, although the spar did have some signs of the start of light corrosion. You should go on a program of Corrosion X or some such and keep it on that program.

Nose gear door grommet was in poor shape, and door bumpers were cobbled with RTV.. should put real bumpers in there.

The oil filter safety wire was a little loose.. a small but indicative item.

Gear swung well, took proper amount of time, no issues observed, clearance on gear legs was good (legs not bent). Main gear up bumpers in good shape.. somewhat unusual (A good thing!)

Overall paint looked nice, other than the filiform noted above. Right overlay missing on panel. It looks ok, just a little crude with the trim missing.

Many cracks and missing bits on the interior plastic, much of it is Kinzie and even some of that is broken. TLC needed.

Interior is nothing special, not ripped up but not compelling either. Carpet is in good shape but looked rather dingy. Rather strange fabric on the glareshield but it will probably grow on you.

Leroy mentioned that someone else had recently done a prepurchase inspection on the airplane. Is that something you knew about?

This is a solid airplane but not a looker. The potential is there. With time, care and cosmetic work and parts it could get there, but in the meantime it should be safe and solid transportation. The damage history and missing engine log will always pull the value down a little, but hopefully your starting price reflects that too.

The below pictures were sent along with the text above. A few were pulled up to the text for this web page.

Inspection pictures

All images can be clicked on to open a larger version.
It looks nice in the air..
The worst problem, at least immediately, is this broken hinge on the pilot's door.
It has a precise flight backup vacuum system with the old valve. This valve has an AD requirement for an annual flight test. The larger silver portion is the valve.
The right side of the panel had no overlay, a perfect candidate for the Aero Enhancements system.
Nice radios, pretty nice instruments, fuzzy pictures.
First time I've seen this approach, an attempt to limit door travel, perhaps after the event that was noticeable in the hinge repair.
The strangest jack installation I've seen in a while, they scabbed anther jack panel right behind the original one.
Nice little switch panel, and evidence of a newer ELT with remote control.
One more try for a good shot at the nice stack and 300 AP
the glareshield has a strange fabric overlay. I wonder if this will reflect in the windshield?
Vertical card compass, with the proper bouncy bracket.
The interior has a lot of little cracks and missing bits like this part just inside the pilot's door jamb.
Carpet is in good shape but looks like something from your grandpa's house.
There are several pieces of Kinzie plastic, not all of them still in good shape. These will respond to some repair and improved attachment.
Nice headphone jacks, visible *behind* the rear seat.
Looks like an aftermarket battery box lid, probably a good thing.
It seemed odd for the ELT to be on the shelf rather than in it's bracket on the side. Also many antenna wires. All of the antennas were in the rear of the fuse, probably good and one reason that the last gearup was a minor event.
The tailcone showed some signs of either pollution or oil burning from the engine, most likely pollution since it's uniform. And grass in the tailcone, an indication of some grass fields. Not a problem.
Pilot's side, where the door handle goes past the door upholstry. Will want a little repair work.
Note the ugly pin, pilot's door stop.
copilot's kick panel, it's been kicked more than once. Cosmetics are not strong in this airplane.
Just one small leading edge dent.. you can roll some of this out with your fingers, a rubber mallet will resolve the rest. With care it can be perfect.
A good prepurchase mech will really get into the airplane. Finding interesting things in here...
This rivet shows wear, which means it's wearing a hole in the cowl. This is at the leading edge of the engine.
Interesting solution to keep the baffle seal from bending backward. Not executed with perfection, but workable and creative.
This is what the mechanic was looking up at, nose gear hoses. One looks original (luckily it's the down hose) and the other has SAE markings on it. Society of Automotive Engineers? Perhaps not the perfect FAA approved hose, but specced better than the one Cessna put in there new.
Very unusual, the real Cessna part on the nose gear eccentric bumper.
This engine mount, just under the right muffler, shows pitting and corrosion. Needs cleaning and evaluating as to depth of penetration of pitting.
Another shot of the same. If the pits are too deep a patch can be welded onto the engine mount.
Above, the crossover pipe. Below the engine mount. They have come together at some point, see the red rusty spot? The crossover pipe is an expensive part, it would be good to keep these two apart.
A rare paper air filter. This one had about 800 hours on it. Oops...
Quiz picture... this is sighting down the right side toward the departing rain shower outdoors. With care you can see the wrinkles from a past door hinge event. Not too bad.
The tires were not new.. I wonder if the controllers request a lot of high speed approaches in southern Illinois?
Looking up at the gear tunnel, just a little breakout that should be addressed before it gets much worse. Most of the tunnel was in excellent shape.
Here is a sample of the filiform corrosion. Most likely this pre-dated the recent paint job, and was not fully cleaned up before painting. It needs to be polished out, primed and painted. If it does not come back in a couple of years then it's good to paint again, if not fully cleaned up it may take a couple of passes.
Wing to fuse fairing, top side. They were nice and tight, no motion, but this washer was worn through the skin on one side (on the right). This should be watched closely, perhaps a fiber washer put under it or something otherwise creative done to keep it from completely wearing through. Perhaps a new skin before the next paint job?
These trailing edges should line up. Losing about 6-8 knots here.
Funny little wrinkle, rear spar, left wing root. Just skin stuff.. makes you wonder who stepped here?
It has wicks, except this one that is broken off.
These holes should be filled with nylon bumpers, probably lost at stripping during the last paint job.
Here's a good one! This doubler was within a knat's eyelash of hooking on the wing! That would have left the ailerons less than controllable. Perhaps a mongo slip would have gotten you to the ground under control. I tweaked the wing skin a little ways away before I went on, and we pointed it out to the local mechanic.
The owner mentioned that the left fuel gauge did not work.. perhaps there is a clue here?
Neither of us liked the jacking system here, the tailjack was too short and on wheels. We worried but made it work.
They really do look funny up on jacks.
And all this happened in Leroy's little hanger, hard to see with the bright sunset behind it.
Nice little quick drain, hose style. It was a little grungy but workable.
Here is that broken hinge again.
I tried a couple of times to get this shot of the rear nose gear doors. As is typical, the hinges are wearing and missing a couple of segments.
Another shot of the same.
Just a few blind rivets here, put in after the paint job. It does make one wonder what went on here.
Hard to sort this out, the bottom of the pilot's door, showing scraping and signs of door sagging. Needs hinge work.
New nose gear pivot brackets, looks like Cessna parts. A good thing!
Both headlight 'shades' were in place, another unusual thing after all these years.
Cowl seal material is giving up, it should be trimmed at least. It's not too hard to replace, all the rivets are squeezable.
The red cap is on the shaft that should have a cable pulling on it. This is the top of the gascolator, the cap is on the drain pull shaft.
New prop control cable, held on with safety wire. I've seen worse, but I've seen better.
loose safety wire on the oil filter. Its the little things..
As I recall, in later years they started using this different spider bracket. Rusty, not too pretty. Not sure it's an issue but it's different than most.
Shiny new alternator, as later noted in the logs. The bracket was intact, and the rear brace was in place. Looked good.
Interesting job of capturing the wires that go to the throttle switch for the gear warning system. This switch had a tight pivot on the roller arm, a little tweak freed it up so the gear warning would work again.
Missing baffling in the lower center.. this will impact the heater output. There is a lesser gap there, but not a complete lack of space.
Hose clamp installed wrong on muffler. It has not yet started to eat the engine mount.. but it will soon.

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