Engine overhauls give even the most experienced aircraft owners a case of the willies. Beyond the “it’s going to be really expensive,” there are numerous issues to face and decisions to make—choosing a shop; deciding on the type of overhaul, or a factory reman, and what to do about the engine accessories are some that come quickly to mind. On top of that, there’s the crapshoot aspect of the entire business—previously good shops can go through a bad patch or fall apart completely.
Despite the fact that most overhauls go smoothly, there are plenty of horror stories out there. I’ve got my own—some years ago my airplane partner and I sent the engines out for what was to be a 30-day turnaround at a shop with a good reputation. We got them back six months later as a collection of parts from junk bins, and they were missing key components such as mags and ignition harnesses—yet the logbooks said they’d been run on a test stand for two hours. We got the FAA involved—and we learned that it has a criminal division. It came out that we weren’t the only ones who’d been had and, long story short, the shop owner spent a year in a federal slam. Nevertheless, we had to pay for another set of overhauls.
That experience, combined with representing some owners who have had nightmare experiences with overhaul shops has caused me to be on the alert for services that will help owners when it comes time for an engine overhaul.
Over the last few months I’ve had conversations with Alan Depauw, founder of an innovative new website and service, overhaulbids.com. Simply put, an owner goes to the website and puts in the information on the type of engine he or she needs to have overhauled, the site alerts a set of shops (and one engine manufacturer) it has vetted and considers to be responsive to customers. Within a few days, via the site, those shops provide detailed bids to overhaul that engine. In the interim, the owner will have had time to look over the educational materials on the website to learn much of what he or she will need to know to evaluate the bids. Currently, the website is set up for Continental and Lycoming piston engines but DePauw hopes to expand it to turbines. The website also includes a video of Alan DePauw explaining how the process works.
In addition, during the time when the owner is collecting bids, Depauw sends emails to the owner providing information appropriate to the type of engine involved and directing the owner to further educational materials on the website. The goal, according to DePauw, is to help the owner become an educated consumer and make the overhaul process go as smoothly as possible.
Upon receiving bids, the owner is encouraged to contact the shop directly to discuss the bids and make certain each party to the potential transaction fully understands what is involved—an engine overhaul isn’t cheap.
Free Service for Aircraft Owners
Once a decision is made, the owner contracts directly with the shop and communicates directly with the shop as the overhaul progresses. When the project is complete and the shop is paid, the shop pays what Depauw calls a referral fee to overhaulbids.com.
I mentioned to Depauw that, shockingly, I’ve run across folks in aviation who were less than completely ethical in their dealings. What would happen if the shop and the owner colluded to cut him out of his referral fee? His response was that part of his vetting of shops caused him to select shops that had a reputation for honest dealing and the shops desire the extra business they get through being sent requests for bids from the website—if they don’t uphold their end of the deal, that business stops.
How It Came to Be
According to Depauw, who spent time as both Part 135 charter pilot and flight instructor and is now working in the finance world, there are about 75 piston engine overhaul shops in the U.S. (Continental deals directly with owners, Lycoming goes through distributors). He started creating overhaulbids.com after assisting a friend who needed to have the engines on his Baron overhauled. Depauw started trying to find out all he could about the various shops, including looking at owner comments on various aviation Internet forums. He eventually called all of the shops.
Based on his experience with the way the shops responded to a potential customer, he created a list of shops that he felt had a good attitude and were responsive to customer questions and needs. He then approached those and asked them to make bids in response to requests from users of the website and pay a finder’s fee to the website for those bids that resulted in a completed project.
As part of the continuing process of vetting shops, an owner is encouraged to write a review on the shop once the overhaul is completed. While Depauw doesn’t say how many bad reviews it would take to get a shop pulled from the website’s recommended list, he told us the vetting process will be ongoing.
A significant part of the website is the learning center with some 13 pages of information and suggestions for owners—a lot of stuff I wish I had known years ago. It explains why a bid will probably have some price contingencies because the true condition of the engine can’t be known until it’s opened up. That’s especially important if parts are to be reused. It also explains that not all shops bid in the same fashion and gives information on interpreting bids and points out that direct conversation with the shop will allow the owner and shop to fine tune a bid.
There is a link to the Blue Book’s estimated price of overhauling specific engines.
The form the owner fills out to obtain bids includes a section where the owner can tell his or her story about the airplane and the engine—something that I think is important to help a shop get a little better feel for the engine when making a bid.
Depauw told me that insurance companies are using the website to get bids when they are going to pay for prop strike/sudden stoppage inspections—seems to me like an efficient way to start the process.
For several years now, Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management has been managing engine overhauls for aircraft owners for a flat fee. It’s a service I value highly and, full disclosure, my aircraft partners and I used it the last time we had our engine overhauled. Yet, for the owner who wants to manage his or her own overhaul, I think the limited amount of information outside of Aviation Consumermagazine’s periodic engine overhaul shop survey makes it a time-consuming process.
As someone who has had good and bad experiences with engine overhauls, my opinion is that Depauw’s website is a good step in the right direction for the aircraft owner faced with the need for an overhaul. It not only maps the location and identifies all of the shops that Depauw could identify as being in the business and states whether each one is a part of the overhaulbids.com program; it provides solid educational material on the engine overhaul process. I like that it doesn’t cost the aircraft owner a cent to use—and nobody pays anything unless an overhaul actually takes place.
Rick Durden is an aviation attorney, a long-time aircraft owner who holds an ATP and CFII and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vol. I.