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Are Pinball Machines Hard to Maintain? (Explained)

Pinball machines are great arcade machines and people often find them to be a finishing touch in most game rooms but if you have an interest in a pinball machine, you’ll also know that they are expensive to buy. 

Even when buying a pinball machine second-hand, it can be considered quite an investment, so maintenance and keeping your pinball machine in good working order will often become a top priority for pinball machine owners. 

The question most people will have though, is are pinball machines hard to maintain? 

Sure, they look simple enough to clean but maintenance requires much more than just keeping the glass casing streak free! Therefore, in this article I’ll cover just how hard pinball machines can be to maintain so that you know how to keep a pinball machine in good working condition once you own one. 

Are Pinball Machines Hard to Maintain

The external casing of a pinball machine is not difficult to maintain as it just requires regular cleaning. The internal mechanisms like wiring and electrical circuits however, are very difficult to maintain and most machines will require professional servicing which can also be quite expensive. 

A pinball machine is a novelty arcade machine that is mainly designed to be fun – but also to make money. Whenever something has the potential to make money in a public place, there needs to be a certain barrier to entry in order to keep competition low. 

With pinball machines, this cost comes from an expensive purchase price and also from the difficulty in maintaining these machines. Pinball machines have come a long way from having a basic bumper system and modern machines are made using multiple components which include:

  • Spring system plunger
  • Ramps and paths
  • Electrical wiring for scoring and lights
  • Electrical circuit board (like you get with computers)
  • Bumpers
  • Flippers

For a more visual idea of what’s inside a pinball machine, check out this video below:

As you can see, there are multiple components to a pinball machine which all require different types of maintenance and more importantly, different skill sets that not everyone will naturally have. 

How to Clean and Maintain a Pinball Machine

The easy part of pinball machine maintenance is keeping the machine clean. This means both the external casing and parts as well as the internal components. Dust, rust, and moisture can all damage a pinball machine over time so having a regular cleaning routine is essential for keeping a pinball machine well maintained. 

Every 2 months you will want to clean the pinball machine completely and you want to be sure to only use cleaners that have been approved for your machine. For instance, with a lot of older models you will want to use something like Mills Wax, whereas for a pinball machine that was manufactured within the last 5 years a Novus #2 might be perfectly fine.

When in doubt, be SURE to ask either your vendor or if that is impossible, through a pinball forum like pinside where you can get confirmation from someone who owns the same machine.

Step 1

Before cleaning the playfield, you are going to need to carefully remove ramps, mini-trails, and other impediments. This is to make it easier to not only clean individual parts but also the machine as a whole.  

For this step, you should take advantage of current technology by taking snapshots with your phone along the way. This gives you a way to efficiently reassemble the machine in case you forget any part of how it’s put together (nightmare situation!).

This is also going to be the perfect time to replace any bulbs that have been burnt out and you should make it a habit to check all of the exposed screws to ensure that they are tight and not corroded.

Step 2

When you clean, you’ll want to make sure that you get the flippers first as they are easy to forget and then it’s time to apply your wax. When waxing, be sure to be careful – use the minimum amount of wax recommended and apply it gently in a circular motion.

This is so that we can avoid any wax buildup, especially in areas where it might impede the motion of the ball or simply affect the aesthetics by collecting in a location where it is hard to remove.

Take your time with it and use minimal wax and you should be just fine.

Step 3 

Once you’ve cleaned and waxed the internal area of the machine, you’ll next want to clean the external components. The cleaning method used will depend on the material of your machine. A wooden frame will require a different cleaning method than a plastic or metal casing so use the items most appropriate. 

Do You Need to Regularly Clean Your Pinballs

One aspect of pinball maintenance that is easy to overlook is the balls themselves. Pinballs need to be perfectly smooth, as any marring to the surface of the ball can result in a scratched playfield, stuck pinballs, and more. This will reduce the overall lifespan of the playfield and it’s quite easy to avoid.

A good rule of thumb is to clean your pinballs at least once a month. If it’s getting everyday use, twice a month is even better. It doesn’t take very long and since a damaged ball can wreak a lot of havoc in a machine that gets everyday use, it’s worth taking the time to keep them polished, smooth, and clean.

Double check with your vendor, but generally a solution composed of glass cleaner diluted with a little water will do the trick nicely. This also gives you an opportunity to examine the ball to determine that there are no cracks or blemishes to the surface.

It takes only minutes but this simple practice will help to ensure that your playfield doesn’t suffer from operational friction and require potentially costly repairs that you could have avoided.

Are Pinball Machines Expensive to Maintain

Due to the complexity and circuitry of modern pinball machines, internal maintenance and repair work can be incredibly expensive as it needs to be carried out by a certified professional or technicians in most instances. 

The main issue will usually be the electrical wiring or circuit board as most people are not readily trained in fixing electrical faults for most items or appliances, not just pinball machines. 

While parts like the flippers or prong can be bought and replaced with relative ease (depending on your knowledge or manual skill set), electrical work should not be carried out by an untrained individual. 

Not only is this dangerous but you could cause more damage to the pinball machine through incorrect “fixes” that will prove more costly than having a professional come to fix it. 

Don’t Try to Fix It Yourself

Once you’ve gotten into the swing of preventative maintenance it is easy to assume that you can fix simple problems on your own.

DON’T do this.

This is especially true with older models, which might have specialized mechanisms or parts that you aren’t going to be able to easily replace without finding a legacy parts supplier or 3d printing a part that is no longer manufactured.

Even with newer machines there can be a lot of parts that you hadn’t counted on and without a diagram of the assembly then taking apart your machine might be tantamount to playing with fire. An expert with experience in your specific machine can fix an issue in record time and they are well-worth their hourly rate.

That said, if you are a hardcore DIY enthusiast and serious about performing all maintenance and care on your pinball machine by yourself, then that brings us to our next point about the difficulties in maintaining a pinball machine.

Consider a ‘Paid Tutorial’ With an Expert

If you wish to handle all service and maintenance on your own, then you have two options. The first is that you can ‘tinker’ with your machine, take it apart, and learn it at the risk of having to pay for costly repairs in the future if something goes wrong – not what we’d recommend.

A good alternative is to consider a ‘paid tutorial’. By contacting your vendor or by going on a pinball forum and locating an expert for your particular machine, you can very likely negotiate a flat rate for a session that lasts a pre-agreed amount of time where you can learn basic maintenance specific to your machine.

This is a good time to ask questions like ‘what is the most difficult component to repair on this machine’ and ‘where may I obtain parts for this machine’. You should also ask what sort of preventative maintenance schedule that they would follow if this were their machine.

They might even know where you can get a hold of some schematics or have some resources that you can take advantage of, and may be open to disassembling and reassembling it with you so that you can get a feel for all it’s moving parts.

Yes, some of us like to just take things apart and tinker, but never underestimate the value of consulting an expert. 

You’ll save more money in the long run and if you are dealing with a technician who has many years of experience, we can almost guarantee that you are going to learn something valuable that you might otherwise have to learn the ‘hard way’.

This is also a cost effective way to reduce ongoing maintenance costs over time. Paying someone to show you how to maintain key parts once will save you money in the long-run as you won’t need to call someone out each time to fix or maintain these specific parts in the future. 

If You Move It, Then You Need to Inspect It

Finally, the last bit of regular maintenance that you always want to perform is a full inspection of your machine whenever it is moved. It is imperative that you do this before you power on the machine.

Check all of the moving parts to make sure that nothing is jammed and look for any obvious signs of something out of place on the playfield. If you want to be thorough and get a closer look at everything, go through a routine cleaning so that you remove the parts on the field and so you can see that everything is in place.

It seems a bit much at first, but once you’ve got a maintenance routine then you can do this quickly and confidently. After you’ve checked the machine thoroughly, then go ahead and power it on and enjoy a sweet, sweet game on your favorite pinball machine!

In Summary

Pinball machines are expensive and intricate machines with multiple components and moving parts. 

When you factor in some of the mechanical components like the flipper or bumpers alongside the electrical components like the internal wiring and circuit board, it soon becomes apparent that pinball machines are not easier to maintain – far from it!

Not only are pinball machines difficult to maintain (outside of cleaning them), due to the delicate mechanisms, most owners do not have the skills needed to fix many issues themselves. This means that professionals need to be called out to fix or maintain these machines so it can also be expensive to maintain a pinball machine

Due to the countless different pinball machines models, we couldn’t cover all maintenance issues in this article, however, hopefully you have a much better idea of how time consuming and difficult it could be to maintain a proper pinball machine and that there are added costs that you might not have thought about either!