Older aircraft can be an extremely affordable way to enjoy flying. But finding the right one may take some time. Beyond the basics, I would say you want to consider three key pieces of advice:
1) Don’t let the seller drive the conversation.
Inexperienced buyers may not know the right questions to ask, so the seller takes over. When the conversation is done, you come away knowing what the seller wants you to know, not the things you need to know. So, if you’re really considering an aircraft, best to bring someone more experienced into the call.
2) Verify everything.
Start with the airplane make, model, and serial number, and get the original airworthiness certificate. Some manufacturers changed their model names many times for the same airframe over the years. Just look at the Cherokee 180, a.k.a. Challenger, a.k.a. Archer. It’s not uncommon for sellers to inadvertently get this wrong. And don’t forget to verify the registration or “N” number, as it’s another way to confirm the airplane’s identity and help you with your title search actions. Don’t trust the “N” numbers either shown or written in the ad to be correct.
3) Get a sense of time.
Ask for the total time on the airframe, total time on the engine(s), and time since any major overhauls or upgrades. Find out who did the overhaul and the date. Remember, top overhauls do not count for anything but a repair when determining the aircraft value. Also check the time on the props, time remaining on timelife components.
As an added bonus, I would personally want to ask them their reason for selling the aircraft. It’s always an interesting and revealing question. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should be enough to help you understand the plane’s value and whether it’s something you dive into further.