it's all about CUSTOMER SERVICE
For more detailed info on tools and tool vendors, see my TOOLS page. Also see my Other RV Builders page for builders who are also providing products and services. For info on support groups for some of the major players listed here, see my Builder Support page.
VENDORS I HIGHLY RECOMMEND:
Van's Aircraft - well, of course. Outstanding product, support, and customer service
Blue Mountain Avionics - EFIS & autopilot - good products, very responsive, good customer service, very open, very available head man, has discussion group, dedicated to improvements JULY 9, 2009 - BMA HAS FOLDED UP - THIS SUCKS BIG TIME
Grand Rapids Technologies - EFIS & engine monitor - good products, very responsive, excellent customer service, very good about exchanging unused products for upgrade
Dynon Avionics - EFIS - good product, good responsiveness, good support; inflexible about exchanging/upgrading purchased products, though
ePanel Builder - Bill VonDane's online program to help you build your instrument panel. Includes a free panel builder area and an subscriber area, with more features, that costs $39 for 3 months. Also offers custom turnkey panels, installations, and upgrades. Bill is very responsive and customer-oriented. See also CreativAir and Whiskey Victor for more of Bill's products and services.
CreativAir - wig-wag, LED nav lights, and other lighting products - good products, very good responsiveness
Kitlog - Kitlog Pro builder log software - good product, good customer service
Avionics Systems - custom panel builder - good responsiveness
SteinAir - electrical supplies, tools, and products like interior lighting & wig-wag - good products & prices. OUTSTANDING customer service. Also carries tungsten bucking bars (highly recommended) and high quality air vents
B & C Specialty Products - home of Bob Nuckolls, electrical guru - good electrical products, outstanding customer service
Pillar Point - low fuel level indicators - good product & customer service
TRUTRAK - makers of popular autopilot and flight instrument systems. I didn't buy their autopilot system, because I had assumed that if I had BMA EFIS, I had to use BMA autopilot, but I kinda wish I had gotten a TruTrak. I hear nothing but good things about them and their products. I'm hoping the BMA A/P will work as well as I hear the TruTrak does. Who you talk to when you call a company can make all the difference. The first couple times I called TruTrak, I talked to some ignorant, disinterested kid, and I wasn't at all impressed with the company. When I called after having already gotten the BMA autopilot, I talked to Jim, the owner. That was a hugely different experience, and made me wish I'd gotten the TruTrak. 2011 UPDATE - I bought a TruTrak EFIS and autopilot for my RV-6A. Every time I've called them about any aspect of their products, or to talk about possible upgrades, it has been a quite positive experience.
Aircraft Extras - electroluminescent lighting, low fuel level indicator system, flap control system, center console, and many other cool products for your aircraft project - quite responsive and interested in their customers. Check out their ever-expanding offerings.
Show Planes - Flaps Positioning System - good responsiveness, also sold through Van's catalog
Duckworks - landing lights - good product, good customer service; basic lights also sold thru Van's
Ray Allen Co - servos & indicators - seem to be good products. I haven't dealt with their customer service
Planetools - good aircraft tools, good customer service & responsiveness
Perihelion Design - essential electrical control modules from Eric Jones. Outstanding customer support. My entire electrical system is designed around Perihelion products.
EcuTek - makers of Delta Dash, software for monitoring Subaru engine performance & parameters - very good responsiveness & very helpful.
Soller Paddles - best source of West Systems epoxy - friendly, prompt, knowledgeable, best epoxy prices
Decalin Chemicals - makes Decalin, an anti-lead additive. Decalin is the hot ticket for pilots whose engines don't like lead, especially auto conversions, like Eggenfellner. Chris seems to be on top of things, and quite interested in his customers. Chris is also a fellow RV builder.
Xtreme Products - fellow RV builder Bryan Fillman. Makes a very nice looking center console. Outstanding customer support.
Experimental Air - fellow RV builder Ross Schlotthauer. Makes instrument panel layouts and waterjet cutting, throttle bracket, aluminum air vents.
Heater Craft - makes all sorts of custom heaters (all based on hot water, AFAIK, so that leaves out you air-cooled guys). Good customer service.
MSC - huge selection of industrial supplies, especially machinist-related tools. Their "Big Book" catalog is about 6" thick. Excellent customer service, incredibly fast shipping (usually receive everything the next day, even when ordering late in the day), most everything is "in stock", quick & easy online ordering..
McMaster-Carr - gigantic selection of industrial supplies. Their web site has an extremely useful and easy-to-use search engine to look for things you need and narrow down your selection.
Allied Electronics - tons of electronic stuff, switches, relays, LEDs, etc. Lots of items in their catalog are not in stock, though. My experiences with them and their customer service have been good. Their web site search engine isn't the greatest, but it's OK. See also Mouser, Digikey, Newark for things Allied does not have. Smaller places like Action, GC, Jameco will have a less overwhelming selection than the previously-mentioned suppliers.
Surplus LED - lots of LED-based bulbs to replace your incandescent bulbs
Schweiss Bi-Fold Doors - not only do they make very good bifold hangar doors, they also have exceptionally good customer service. See my hangar page.
SkyGeek - tools, parts, pilot supplies. SkyGeek was $10 less than anywhere else for my AirGizmos panel mount for my Garmin 496. Good customer service, quick shipping, and you get a real person when you call them.
Clarity Aloft - They make a super-light headset that is based on earplugs. The headsets provide excellent attenuation, and they are so light, it feels like you don’t have anything at all on. CA's customer service is also very excellent and personalized.
David Clark Company - ubiquitous headsets, excellent products and customer service.
Flightline Interiors - makes full interiors, as well as nice wing root boots. Nice, personalized service and a real person answers the phone.
U-Fly-It - not part of the Van's RV world, but if you're interested in Light Sport/Ultralight aircraft, Dennis Carley at U-Fly-It in Deland, FL provides top-notch flight training, sales, and service of new and used Quad City, Quicksilver and other ultralight and Light Sport planes.
Simple Digital Systems - makes the SDS engine management systems for many applications, including planes and race vehicles. Great product, great customer service.
Aircraft Spruce - was on my "OK" list, then "ambivalent", then "avoid" due to multiple experiences with poor customer service. After exchanging some emails with Jim Irwin, ACS owner, in February, 2007, I feel that ACS management's head is in the right place, and Jim genuinely wants to see his people provide good service. So, I've moved them back up to "ambivalent", and hopefully they will continue to rise in my eyes, as their customer service warrants it. Excellent catalog and easy-to-use web site. JUNE, 2009 - Several orders with them have been smooth, so I moved them back up to "recommended".
Columbia River Mandrel Bending - sells mandrel bent tubing. Good prices, quick and reasonably-priced shipping, good quality.
Infinity Aerospace - nice guy, good product (grips with LOTS of switches), slow responsiveness, but he does usually eventually respond. His web site needs to be professionally redone - it's a jumble and gets rather carried away with extreme fonts.
mypilotstore.com - large selection of a variety of aviation & pilot products, outstanding customer service.
VENDORS THAT I HAVEN'T DEALT WITH, BUT PLAN TO OR WOULD, AND WHO HAVE A GOOD REPUTATION ON THE INTERNET:
Fairings-Etc - they make pre-made fairings that they say you only have to trim to fit. I haven't dealt with them, but everyone on VAF raves about them, and says it saves a lot of fiberglass work and they look and fit better than home-made ones. They also make a heavy duty tipup canopy latch, s/s wheel pant brackets, and other products.
CreateAPlane - makes custom wood desktop plane models
Classic Aero Designs - make interior packages, glare shield trim, padded carpet.
John Stark Avionics - I didn't actually buy from him, due to reasons unrelated to him & his business, but I was impressed with his responsiveness, interest, and prices. Other builders report the same very positive experiences with John. When I was shopping for avionics, John stood out clearly above the rest, and I highly recommend him.
Homebuilt Help - books & videos of helpful builder info
IDG, Inc. - makers of The Terminal Tool - designed & manufactured by an RV guy. For securing large wires to terminals. Looks like a good tool, although it would have to include an 8ga die before I'd buy it.
Crow Enterprizes - makers of seat belts, harnesses, restraints, etc. Everyone on VAF talked about their good products, good customer service, and low prices.
Vertical Power - makes, among other things, a "plug and play" interconnection hub for all your avionics wiring. Everyone seems to speak very highly of it. They also make a box with electronic fuses, replacing all of an aircraft's fuses and breakers.
Andair - very well made products, Was on my "avoid" list, due to zero responsiveness. The last time I dealt with them, getting the fuel valve extension for my console, their responsiveness was very good.
VENDORS THAT ARE JUST "OK":
Proprietary Software - good Angle Of Attack system - spotty responsiveness - Aug '05 - now owned by Advanced Flight Systems
Wicks Aircraft Supply - their catalog is kind of a hodge-podge, laced with typos. They don't carry as much stuff as Aircraft Spruce (ACS), but they do carry some things that ACS does not. I haven't needed their customer service, so I can't comment on that yet. They charge a 15% restocking fee for all returns, so that is not good.
VENDORS I AM AMBIVALENT ABOUT:
Kitplanes magazine - poor customer service, has "avoid contact with those annoying customers" attitude, decent magazine. Very cheap - even charges subscribers to view their web pages, and has pay-per-view system for specific features.
One Mile Up - makers of Panel Planner - fair to poor product, poor employee responsiveness, very good attentiveness by Gene Velazquez, President.
Morton Buildings - smooth and efficient builders of custom hangars and other buildings. Nearly all the local private hangars are Morton. The only negative for me was poor responsiveness, followup, and attention to detail by the local sales rep and very poor customer service after the sale. See my hangar page.
Avery Tools - excellent source of tools, outstanding customer service. Cleaveland carries a couple things they don't, like 120 degree dimple dies and a better edge bender, but Avery's responsiveness is MUCH better than Cleaveland's. 2007 update - Avery is now carrying 120 degree dimple dies. 2009 update - Avery's customer service seems to have gone way downhill. Over the course of about a month, I emailed them twice and twice filled out the contact form on their web site, seeking more detailed info for a rather expensive purchase (inspection scope). ZERO response, zero sale. I bought one elsewhere. See also my crimper comment about Avery.
VENDORS I RECOMMEND AVOIDING:
Most companies provide good support and products. A few do not:
Pilot Comunications USA - makers of the BluLink Bluetooth adapter for aviation headsets. Shockingly poor, belligerent customer service. The BluLink product works very poorly and is very sensitive to which headsets, which planes, and which radios it will work with. See my detailed testing and review HERE.
Aerotronics - very poor, indifferent customer service. Read the details on my avionics pages for 2003 and Aug, 2004.
Gulf Coast Avionics - Same as above. They apparently can't be bothered with someone contacting them repeatedly, ready to spend about $60K on a panel. See my 2003 avionics page. If you want avionics, go to John Stark. His prices are among the lowest, and his customer service is vastly better than most avionics vendors I contacted.
Avionics West of Tennessee - another incredibly non-responsive avionics dealer. I would NEVER buy anything from someone like this.
NSI Aero Subaru and/or Crossflow Subaru - buyer beware! Tales abound all over the Internet of engines paid for and not delivered. See my engine page for more details.
Cleaveland Tools - has a couple tools you can't get at Avery, but responsiveness has repeatedly been nil.
Harbor Freight - crappy Chinese tools, some minimally OK things, horrendous customer service
Waytek Wire - they carry lots of good wiring products, but very poor customer service attitude. Also, watch out for their "backorder gotcha" - they don't tell you in advance when you order, or give you any opportunity to specify "no backorders" when you order, but anything not in stock will be shipped later, even just the very next day, with additional shipping charges.
On my second order with them, it took them FOUR attempts to ship me what I ordered and a 5th followup to get them to give me a credit they'd promised, all over about a 6 week period. Three times, they sent me something other than what I'd ordered (and was on the invoice). Incredibly screwed up company.
They also have very oddball minimums - each line item has to be at least $5. Getting male and female pins? Better plan on different quantities of each. Want something that costs $4.75? Better plan on ordering two of them. Also, their web site apparently creates a new customer ID when you place a second web order, and then they HOLD your order while waiting for you to sort out their mess. See here for some of the details.
Online Components - electronic supplies online only. No catalog or parts info - you have to already know mfg and p/n when you go there. Totally unresponsive to all emails or filling out any forms on their web site. Allied is really a much better source, and no more expensive.
Mac's Radiator - based in Portland, Oregon. Makes custom radiators. Very poor quality, indifferent customer service attitude - see my April, May, June, 2009 engine pages for details.
Eggenfellner Aircraft - They used to be at the top of my "highly recommended" list. While they're now the only Subaru FWF (as the other 2 have gone out of business after ripping off lots of people), I can no longer recommend Eggenfellner. Eggenfellner's attitude toward existing STi customers really fell apart beginning in May, 2007. See my engine page for the long, sorry saga.
VENDORS WITH REPUTATION PROBLEMS:
It seems most of the ones in this category are engine suppliers. I'd say be very cautious in giving an engine builder a deposit. Perhaps put the deposit money into an escrow account. If the builder doesn't want to do that, I'd be very leery.
I think most of us have heard about the problems with Subaru engine builders Crossflow and the infamous NSI. The NSI technology is now reborn (with all new people, I understand) as Maxwell Propulsion Systems. I have not yet heard anything good or bad about Maxwell. Here are reviews I have seen on the Internet lists, but do not have personal experience with:
Performance Engines, La Verne, CA: Review by Larry E. James, Bellevue, WA - Super Decathlon, Rocket under construction:
I own / run a small business and see a lot of things run by my desk. I run a high-end machine shop with all multi-axis machines making orthopedic implants, medical devices, aircraft parts, and the like. The success of my business is largely based on old fashioned principles: honesty, quality, and expertise.
Ron Munson / Performance Engines has owed me and promised to pay me back my $20,000 deposit for over two years now. I read Matt Throckmorton's account of his dealings with Mike Moore and mine is a very similar story. Bottom line here, no matter how you slice it Ron Munson is a liar and a cheat and should be in jail; let alone receive any orders from any of us or anyone else. His "salesman" Stuart Featherstone falls into the same category. I've tried being nice talking with him, I've had an attorney send nice letters, I've had an attorney send threatening letters, I've had a collections agency work to get my money back. So far, no joy. Apparently Ron Munson has moved his banking to Nevada while maintaining operations in California; making it more difficult and expensive to go after him.
The short story goes like this: I decided to go with Performance Engines for a “hot rod” IO-540 for my Rocket. They asked for a $20,000 deposit and promised delivery in 90 days – all in a written contract (by email and fax). The 90 days came and went, I wasn’t worried; another couple of months went by, I still wasn’t too worried. After 9 months went by and still no engine I was worried. We had been talking during this time and there were “reasons” for the delay (for example, they were unable to secure a Barrett cold-air-induction sump). Then a friend of mine (based at my home airport) visited Performance Engines looking for another engine builder for his Reno racer; and found that while Performance advertises and talks up their dyno data and experience; they have no dyno. Given this and the fact that they were over 6 months late in delivering my engine I decided to pull the plug; I cancelled my order and asked for my deposit back. Ron agreed but asked for a little time to pull together the $20,000. Again I wasn’t too worried and agreed to 2 months. This time came and went with no money. Long story short, after 2 years, over 50 phone calls, many promises, many broken promises, and the involvement of an attorney; I had received around $8,000 of my deposit returned. During this time my secretary kept a phone log and the number of calls and emails that went un-returned is staggering; as well as the number of times we were promised “$4,000 by the end of next week” only to receive $1500 2-1/2 weeks later. As a last resort I let a collections agency try; and after they had worked their normal process, they came back and said that Ron had shown himself to be fairly adept at circumventing debt; among the tactics are banking in Nevada while conducting operations in California and having his bookkeeper stonewall. These folks said the only way to go further would be for me to pay the up-front costs of a lawsuit. I’m taking this to mean “more good money after bad” so I’m very reticent to make this investment (most likely not an investment at all). That’s pretty much the story.
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