Pinball maintenance routines

I do a fair amount of work keeping my pinball machines maintained. Here’s my list.

Keep them clean

Plain and simple, a clean machine earns better.

Here are some pictures of pinball machines on route in Seaside, Oregon. The playfields are so dirty they are black. They looked much worse in person.

I know rock & roll is supposed to be dirty but…
There’s a Game of Thrones under there somewhere
This isn’t what a Black Spiderman is supposed to look like.
Taking the the dirty zombie theme too literally.

I was ready to spend $20 on those pinball machines but I walked away disappointed. As you can see the machines are quite recent. If an operator can’t be bothered to take five minutes to clean the playfield every 300 games or so, they shouldn’t be operating.

Use Silicone Rubbers

I have been switching all of my machines over to silicone rubber. Silicone rubber lasts longer and is dramatically easier to clean. I prefer Titan rubber for the variety of colors and overall quality.

Replacing a slingshot rubber

Die, Credit Dot, Die

Most serious pinball players know what a credit dot is. It’s that dot that appears next to the number of credits shown on the DMD. A credit dot is a clever, subtle way of alerting an operator that there may be a problem without scaring off customers.

However, good pinball players know what a credit dot is too and won’t drop coins in a machine with one. Clearing these on a regular basis should be part of your routine.

At least once a week I check for credit dots. Most frequently they are false alarms. Modern machines throw a credit dot if a switch hasn’t been activated in a certain number of games. Chances are, the switch is fine and it just hasn’t been triggered. If you have a lot of kids or casual players, you’ll see more credit dots.

But sometimes the problem is real.

Just today a switch check showed me a switch was actually bent and non-functioning. On the same machine just two weeks ago I put new rubbers on an outlane post and accidentally blocked the right outlane. I’d played a few games and didn’t notice until the credit dot appeared.

The switch test worked, so I looked for other causes. I discovered the new slightly thicker silicone rubber was preventing the ball from ever entering that outlane. Adjusting the outlane post fixed that. I’m sure the players loved that you could never drain down that outlane, but I certainly didn’t!


Check the Mechs

I test each coin mech at least every week. Still, I get a coin jam every month or so. I hate jams because they often go unreported and I know I lose customers any time they put money in and nothing happens.

You’ll find many amusing things stuffed into coin mechs – foreign coins, toothpicks, and paper from coin wrappers. I’ve heard tell of stranger things.

Use Cleaning Cards

I use these inexpensive cleaning cards to clean bill acceptors. Change machines get carded monthly and the ones on pinball machines twice a year.

Swap out Coil Sleeves

When flippers feel weak, the first thing to check is the coil sleeve. I was surprised to find out that often all it takes is this little part that costs less than $1. They are a bit of a pain to swap out, and there are quite a few sizes. I buy them a dozen at a time from Pinball Life.

That’s a dirty coil

Play them frequently

I try to play every game I have on route at least once a week. Oh, the things I do for pinball. But seriously, it does take time. I know my machines and I can feel when the flippers are starting to lose power, or something is out of adjustment.

Sometimes I’ll let a minor issue slide if I personally feel that it doesn’t have an impact of gameplay.

Watch and Listen

I sometimes become aware of problems just by watching people. Other times people will approach me when they see me working on a machine and let me know something I wasn’t aware of.

Track issues

I use a web-based system to track the problems my pinball machines have, and to remind me to perform certain kinds of maintenance like changing batteries.

The software I use is is totally free. Really. I’ll talk about that in my next post.


Brian Jamison

Portland, Oregon

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