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The following information is intended to help the "first time pinball buyer" to know what to look for, and what questions to ask, when shopping for a new or used pinball machine. There really is a lot to consider when buying a pinball machine that a lot of people honestly don't think about until it's too late.
We also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about buying a game, and introduce you to, and tell you a bit about, our company and the unique work we do.
If you have a question that isn't answered in this guide, please feel free to e-mail us, and we'll be glad to answer your question as best we can!
This guide contains the following sections:
What's different about us?We're not your average pinball dealer! We at Action Pinball are one of only a few pinball companies in the country that specialize in extensive detailed overhauls of the used pinball games that we restore and sell. We also sell brand new games too. Where most dealers will spend an average of only 4 to 8 hours "cleaning up" a used game before its sold, we spend an average of 40 hours on used games we recondition and sell.
Why all the extra work? It's just a pinball machine- right? It is a machine, but that's an important fact that is often overlooked by most buyers, and even most sellers too. A pinball machine is a lot like a used car- a machine with hundreds of moving parts that wear out and require more and more repair and upkeep as time goes on. If it's been driven a lot and has a lot of "mileage" on it, then it will require more repair and upkeep, and be more prone to breaking down.
We don't just "fix up" the used games we sell with minimal cleaning and repair work- we put each game through our own reconditioning process to be sure they are in the best condition they can possibly be. Quality and reliability are our top priorities- we want our customers to have a game that looks, plays, and works as good as possible, and that is reliable as possible, for as long as it can possibly be. We invest more time, money, work, and pay more attention to quality and detail. The result is a pinball game that will:
You can find similar games cheaper from other sources, but not in the same condition, and never of the same quality. Even if you don't buy a game from us, drop by our shop and let us show you the work we do, or visit our Pinball Machines page on our website, for an overview of the quality work we do to provide the best quality and most reliable games possible. Find out what to look for, and what questions to ask, when shopping for your game!
What else do I get? Every new or used/reconditioned game we sell includes our outstanding customer service and support for as long as you own the game, and also includes our own extended warranty, and service/support down the road! We are available to service your game even after the warranty period is over, and we offer a special reduced rate on labor and parts on games that our customers have purchased directly from us.
The bottom line, and our main goal, is to provide you with a pinball machine that looks and plays as close to new condition as possible, and that will be reliable and as problem-free as possible. We back this with outstanding customer service and support that absolutely cannot be matched. We are truly a full-service pinball dealer.
Buying a Pinball Machine
1) "I bought a game off eBay and didn't get what I was expecting..."
This quote relates to probably the biggest and most prevalent problem in the pinball market today. We literally receive dozens of phone calls at our shop every week from people who have bought a pinball machine from another seller or "off of eBay" or other internet sites, who honestly thought they were getting "a good deal" but who ended up not getting what they thought they were buying. Most people that we talk to in this situation call us needing immediate repairs, replacement parts, repairs from shipping damage, or other help with the game that they thought was "fully working".
This problem is unfortunately caused by both bad sellers, and uneducated buyers alike. The buyer's best defense is a good knowledge of what to look for in a pinball machine, and what questions to ask about game condition, work that has been done on the game, and other important aspects about shipping costs and packaging methods too. And knowing something about the seller's reputation is helpful as well. All these factors will play into the overall buying experience.
Bad sellers are commonplace in today's "internet market" and buyers must be cautious about who they deal with, and must know how to tell a good dealer from an unreputable one. Bad sellers range from simple uneducated sellers that simply aren't that familliar or knowledgeable about what they're selling, to those who are outright crooks running fraudulent auctions with stolen pictures of merchandise that simply doesn't exist. It seems to be getting harder and harder to tell who's good and who's bad in today's market.
On the other hand, many dealers who are established and who have been doing business for a good amount of time are getting known reputations (good or bad) from dealings they've made with past customers. So it may be easier to find out more about a seller if he's been around for a while.
The best defense to a prospective pinball buyer is to "get educated". With the proper knowledge about what to look for and what questions to ask about a pinball machine, and its seller, a pinball buyer really reduces his risk of having a bad experience. There really is a lot more to a used pinball machine than people think, and throughout this section we'll explain more about what you can do to ensure a good pinball buying experience- regardless of whom you buy from.
2) A Pinball Machine is a Machine:
We talk to a lot of prospective and first-time pinball buyers who really don't realize or consider the fact that a pinball machine is in fact just that- a machine with hundreds of moving parts. Many people think that they can just buy a pinball machine- old or new- take it home, plug it in, and it will play forever without any problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One analogy we use to really put pinball machines into perspective for a lot of first-time buyers, is to compare them to cars. A pinball machine is a lot like a car in many ways- both have hundreds of moving parts and the more one is used, the more one will require repair, upkeep, and maintenance.
For example, a brand new car, or a used car that has been fully overhauled (engine rebuilt, new transmission, new tires, etc., etc.) will most likely take you from coast-to-coast across the country without doing anything more than putting in some gas and checking the oil every now and then. On the other hand, a person probably wouldn't go out and buy a 22 year old used car "as-is" and expect to drive it across country without having any problems.
The same is true for pinball machines in every way. A pinball machine that is brand new, or one that has been used but fully overhauled and reconditioned, will no doubt go the distance. A game like this is like a new car- it looks, works, plays, and holds up like a new piece of equipment should. This goes for brand new games, as well as 22 year old games that have been thorougly and properly overhauled. The key here is reliability, but it doesn't come without investing a lot of time and work into thoroughly and properly overhauling a pinball machine so that it will hold up and go the distance. It really makes a difference!
Many people we have talked to, however, have been under the impression that a pinball machine will work and play like new, regardless of how old it is or how much "mileage" it has on it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
So when shopping for a pinball machine, always remember that a pinball machine is like a car. If it has been used heavily for many years and never overhauled or completely reconditioned, then it will probably cost less to buy, but will no doubt need more frequent repair, and require more repair costs to keep it running, as time goes on. The money that is often saved on buying a game like this is quickly spent putting money back in to repairs and upkeep to try to keep the game running. Not to mention "down time"- when the game breaks and everyone is waiting for the repair man to come fix it. A game that doesn't work isn't fun for anyone...
On the other hand, a new game, or a used one that has been fully and properly overhauled, should be expected to work better, play better, look better, last longer, and be more reliable as time goes on. One should naturally expect to pay a bit more for a game in this condition, as opposed to one that is used and not maintained, but a game in better condition will require less maintenance, less upkeep, and fewer repairs and maintenance than one that has never been thoroughly or properly overhauled or reconditioned.
It really makes a difference!
3) Buying a Good Pinball Machine:
The best defense that a buyer can have is a good knowledge of what to look for, and what questions to ask, when shopping for a game. The more you know, then better you can make your choice.
Obviously, any pinball buyer wants a game that is in the best possible condition, and that will work as good as possible, and be as trouble-free as possible. So a lot of things have to be looked at and asked about to ensure that the game you are looking at meets all of your requirements for quality, condition, and reliability down the road. If something isn't in good condition, will you be willing or able to have it repaired? Or will the seller be willing to repair it before selling you the game? Will it be done right?
Many of the important questions to ask about a game can be found in our Frequently Asked Questions section below. So be sure to read through this valuable information before doing your shopping.
This is the best way to buy, whenever possible, because it allows you to see, play, and touch the game in person before making your decision about buying. You can spend your time looking over the game- inside and out- and asking questions of the seller while inspecting the game. You can accurately assess the condition and operation of the game before making your decision to buy.
We encourage all of our local customers to drop by our shop to see, play, and inspect all the games we have available before making your purchase. Then, we encourage you to visit some of our local competitors to see what they have to offer. You'll find some lower prices, but never higher quality! 9 out of 10 local customers that "shop around" always come back to us because they want the best quality game they can get, backed up with our unmatched service and warranty.
If the selection of available games or dealers in your local area isn't real good, you may want or need to shop outside your area- possibly finding a dealer or seller over the Internet. This is where things can get tricky.
The best advice for buying a game "over the internet" is to be able to get as much information about the game as you can. A seller should be able to provide good quality photos or images of the game that is for sale, so you can accurately see and assess the condition and details of the game before you buy. You should also be able to get a good text/written description of the game- including aspects about what kind of condition it is in mechanically, cosmetically, and what kind of work has been done on the game (Has it been overhauled? How completely? What hasn't been done? Etc.)
Consider the whole experience much like buying a used car "over the internet"- without seeing or driving it in person. If you were going to buy a used car without seeing/driving it first, what would you want to look at or ask about before making your purchase? Would you want to know if the engine had been rebuilt recently, or was it "barely running"? What information would you want to see, hear, and know, in order to make you comfortable about buying that car without seeing or driving it first? Apply this scenario to your "over the internet" pinball buying experience and you should be able to determine what you will be happy or comfortable with purchasing.
Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions and ask for photos or even more photos if the ones you're provided with don't show a lot of detail. It will be up to you to determine if this is the game for you, based on the information and pictures provided by the seller. If anything doesn't look right, or the seller is apprehensive or uncooperative about providing information or pictures, then it's probably a good idea to consider another game or another seller.
Buying a New Game:
In most cases, new games are just that- "brand new"- and buyers don't need to worry about considering things like condition, previous work that has been done, any repairs that need to be done, and other items that would normally be considered when looking to buy a used game. New games are basically the same as far as quality/condition, regardless of who you buy from, and about the only thing most people naturally consider is the price.
In most cases this is fine, and someone buying a new game and going with the seller that offers the lowest price usually does just fine, and receives a new game that works fine and everyone is happy.
However, we have learned from experience over the past decades that all "brand new games" that come right from the factory are not always perfect, and occasionally problems will be present even with new games that can cause sellers and buyers to have a bad experience.
To help avoid these issues, we do something with all new games we sell that no other dealer we know of does: as part of the extra features and items that we include with each game that we sell, we do a pre-inspection of each new game before shipping out from our shop to our customers. We remove the game from the factory shipping carton at our shop, and thoroughly inspect it inside and out for any previous shipping damage, problems with the game that were missed at the factory or arose during testing at the factory or shipping to our shop, and to ensure 100% correct operation before the game goes out.
We also add some extra additional packaging to the game when we box it back up to ship to our customers, to help protect it even further during shipping on it's way to our customers.
No other dealer we know of does this.
In fact, most other dealers that sell brand new games "on the internet" never actually have the games in their inventory or even see or touch them before they go out to their customers- it's a fact. These outfits simply take your money and have the game drop-shipped from the factory, direct to you, "as is".
We refuse to lower our standards to working this way- every game we sell is part of our in-house inventory and we want to know the exact quality of every game that our customers are going to receive, before being shipped out to them, so that we can be sure they will receive exactly what they're paying for, and get a game that is 100% trouble-free as soon as it arrives. Would you buy a car from a dealer that never saw or actually had it in their inventory?
"Is pre-inspection important?" We'll let you decide:
Our pre-inspection service avoids these issues and helps ensure a 100% trouble-free transaction between us and our customers and ensures a quality product is delivered.
While there is usually very little risk associated with buying anything brand new, it's a good idea to know who you are buying from, exactly what you are getting (in the way of product, service, support, shipping, and especially game warranty), and what you can expect down the road if you ever need any parts or service for your game.
We beat the factory warranty! Factory warranty on brand new games from the manufacturer is only 60 days from the date that the game is shipped from the factory and covers only the electronic circuit boards (no flippers, no bumpers, etc.) On new games that we sell and thoroughly inspect before shipment, we provide our own custom warranty that starts from the day the customer receives the machine- not the day it was shipped or sold. And our warranty beats the factory warranty, so even if the factory warranty has expired or if the factory won't take care of a problem with the game, we will. We stand behind every game we sell- new or used!
We also provide free technical support as long as you own the game, and offer a discount on labor rates and replacement/service parts to customers who have bought a game from us.
So while buying new usually does have very few risks associated with it, it's important to consider some of these other factors before making your purchase, to avoid any unexpected problems, or lack of service/help with your game down the road.
Buying a Used Game:
There are a LOT more aspects to consider about a used pinball machine than a new game. Prices on used games will vary considerably depending on the actual condition of the game, how well (or poorly) it's been taken care of, and whether or not it has been overhauled, or how extensively (or minimally) the overhaul work has been. On used games, price usually indicates what you are getting- in other words, you usually get what you pay for on a used game- a cheaper game is rarely a better game.
Buying a used pinball machine is exactly like buying a used car- both are machines that have hundreds of moving parts. Each may have been used lightly (driven once a week), or used a lot (driven every day), and each may or may not have been cared for or maintained well.
One of the most important aspects of buying a used pinball machine is seeing and knowing what you are getting before you make your purchase. This aspect is limited if you are buying "across the internet" where you cannot see, touch, inspect, or play the game in person, before you buy. In cases like this, it's important to be able to get as much information about the game you are interested in, as possible, and to ensure that you are dealing with an established and reputable seller. Any seller you are dealing with should be able to provide as many pictures/images of the game as you might need, so you can see as much detail as possible. And to provide a detailed and accurate description of the game- describing all aspects- both good and bad.
Bear in mind, too, that when describing a game, one person's "mint" condition is often another person's "junk", so be sure to not only find out the condition of the game, but how the seller's rating of the condition might compare to your rating of the condition. This is best expressed by seeing images of the game that the seller has described, so you can see for yourself how it really looks.
4) Buying From a Good Seller:
The most important thing about finding a good seller to buy from is choosing one that will not only help you with any and all questions you might have about buying your new game, but one that can help you after the sale with repairs, parts, and any other information you might need. Much like buying a car from an auto dealership, most people want someone who they can call for help if they have any problems or questions. You wouldn't want to buy a car if you couldn't get it serviced or couldn't get parts for it...
For buying locally or "in person" you don't have to worry too much about the seller's reputation or what it is they're selling. Inspecting the game for yourself and knowing what you're really getting may be the most important consideration.
But when buying "out-of-town" or "over the internet", where you can't be there in person to meet the seller or see the game in person, there are a lot more things to consider, and a lot more risks involved, too.
Know who you're buying from: There are a lot of dishonest and unreputable dealers that come and go in the pinball and video game market all the time- most pop up across the internet in various spots or through eBay, etc. Be sure to do your research- ask around about who you are interested in dealing with- word-of-mouth from a seller's previous customers is the best advertising.
5) Service & Warranty After the Sale:
Another often overlooked consideration when buying a pinball machine is warranty and service after the sale. Most people wouldn't buy a new car without getting a warranty (or even a new TV set), so a warranty should be considered for a pinball machine, too!
Be sure to ask about warranty and service when looking at a game you are interested in. After all, it wouldn't do any good to buy a game if you couldn't get help with it, or get it serviced if it needed repair or maintenance.
We beat the factory warranty! Factory warranty on brand new games from the manufacturer is only 60 days from the date that the game is shipped from the factory and covers only the electronic circuit boards (no flippers, no bumpers, etc.) On new games that we sell and thoroughly inspect before shipment, we provide our own custom warranty that starts from the day the customer receives the machine- not the day it was shipped or sold. And our warranty beats the factory warranty, so even if the factory warranty has expired or if the factory won't take care of a problem with the game, we will. We stand behind every game we sell- new or used! For more information on our warranty, see our Game Sales Info page.
We also offer service after the sale on all games we sell, and we offer a reduced labor rate and discount on parts and supplies for games purchased directly from our shop. See our Game Service & Repair page for more info.
Frequently Asked Questions:Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we get in regard to buying a used pinball machine. If you have a question that isn't answered here, please e-mail us or call and we'll be glad to answer your question! We may even add your question to our list!
Q: "How much does a pinball machine cost?"This is our most frequently asked question, and a very important one, too! Pinball machines, like lots of other items (cars, houses, etc), can vary considerably in price depending on several factors:
Q: "Which pinball machine should I buy?"This is a common question, and the best answer is, "Buy the one that you like the best!" But there's always more to it than that. When shopping for a pinball machine, you should consider the following aspects:
Q: "Is it better to buy a used game or a new game?"There are really two primary considerations that will affect the answer to this question:
Even though you can get a good new game from many sources, there are a few other considerations that should be given some thought- most people don't consider these aspects when looking at buying a new game:
Used Games: Many of the above considerations including dealer reputation, service during and after the sale, packaging, shipping, and warranty, should be looked at even when buying a used game, but in addition, and equally as important, is game condition. Any used game will have been owned and operated for some time and the amount of care that a used game has had over it's lifetime, and how well it's been serviced, repaired, and/or overhauled, will be primary factors in determining a good game to buy and how reliable or trouble-free the game might be as time goes on. For more information, please continue reading!
Q: "There are lots of places I can buy a pinball machine. Who should I buy from?"The best things to do when shopping between several different pinball sellers, is compare the quality and extent of work done on the game you are looking at, and find out about service that the seller provides, or doesn't provide. You wouldn't want to buy a game and not have someone to repair/service it if it needed work! Here are some important questions to ask:
Q: "I saw the same game for $500 less from another dealer- what's the difference?"On brand new games, the condition/quality of the game should always be the same- brand new- regardless of who you buy from. But some dealers sell for less or more depending on what may come with the game, additional services, warranty or no warranty, etc. So don't just think only about the price- find out what you're getting (or not getting) for that price. Remember- with pinball, you will get what you pay for.
Most dealers that sell brand new games "on the internet" never actually have the games in their inventory or even see or touch them before they go out to their customers- it's a fact. These outfits simply take your money and have the game drop-shipped from the factory, direct to you, "as is". Most of the time this is fine and no problems arise, but doing business this way does allow for a lot more possible problems to arise. For more important details on this, and price, see Buying a New Game above.
Used pinball machines can vary considerably in price, mostly due to their overall condition, or upkeep. Just like a used car, a used pinball machine that's been well taken care of or overhauled and serviced properly will be worth more than one that has been neglected or used heavily. The games we sell are all in the best condition possible and have had a lot of high-quality restoration work done to them, so they have a higher value than a similar game that has not had as much invested in it. This is usually the main difference in price between games.
"Cheaper" games are often priced lower because they haven't been completely overhauled, or may be in need of some repair work, new parts, or cleaning to bring them up to good or better condition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a game like this if you are willing to do the work yourself. Many people make a "hobby" out of cleaning and fixing up old used pinball machines. If you're interested in doing this, be sure to find out what you're up against before buying. If you get in over your head, we can help- we provide in-home, and in-shop repair services- see our Game Service and Repair page for more info.
"You can pay me now, or pay me later."
We're often reminded of the old Fram Oil Filter commercial that used this line in it's sales pitch. Many people who come through our shop each year, who are interested in a game we have for sale, end up buying the same game cheaper, from another dealer or individual. That "cheaper" price usually means the game they buy is in need of some minor repair, overhaul, clean-up, or other maintenance, and is usually always sold "as-is" without any warranty.
This is definitely one way to save some money at the start- often several hundred dollars. But what we usually see is that the money that was saved by buying the "cheaper" game, is spent back over the next few weeks or months in having a repair person come out to repair and "fix up" the game as problems arise. Shortly after, the cost for the game and the repairs is back up to the price of the fully restored game with the full warranty. So the "cheaper" game ends up costing nearly, or just as much, and yet even still hasn't been fully overhauled or warranted like the games we sell- it has only been "patched up" one repair at a time, and the owner has ended up paying nearly the same price. We see it all too often.
In short, there is no substitute for getting a fully overhauled machine to begin with- especially one with a warranty. You will probably pay more, but you'll definitely get what you pay for and won't have to worry about your game breaking down frequently, needing to be overhauled and/or cleaned, or having to pay for costly repairs and parts.
Don't forget to remember shipping costs, too- if you're buying a game out-of-town, or "over the internet", then you will most likely be having it shipped in. This can add to the cost- average cost on shipping a pinball machine is around $250 to $350 depending on the game's size/weight, shipping company used, and how well or badly the game may be packaged for shipping. Be sure to examine all aspects of shipping, especially the methods of packing and/or crating for protection during shipment, whenever you're comparing game and shipping prices, too.
Q: "Does my pinball machine come with a warranty?"If it doesn't, then ask, "why not?"
Getting a warranty or not will depend on who you buy from, or where your game will be delivered (location). We provide a full warranty on most games we sell- click here for details.
Q: "If I find a game somewhere else, will you fix it up for me like the ones you sell?"We get asked this question very frequently- almost daily. While we are always happy to help with general game repairs and basic overhauls (typically involving up to 6 hours work on most games), we simply don't have the time or resources to do full 40-hour reconditionings on any "outside" games that are not part of our own inventory that we restore and sell through our showroom and website. To do so would mean shutting down our shop for a week so we could overhaul one game for someone- this backs up our shop production and can consequently be very expensive to do. But we can help with occasional repair and service work when you need it on your game- for details on repair and service, see our Game Service & Repair page.
Q: "How many times a year should I expect to have my game repaired or serviced?"This all depends mostly on how often you use your game. Just like a car, a pinball machine has hundreds of moving parts, and the more you use it, the more frequently it will require service.
We usually recommend having your game serviced/maintained at least once a year. This includes cleaning/polishing, and replacing any worn out rubber rings and making any necessary adjustments and even checking the batteries in the backbox (these should be checked periodically, and replaced every 18-24 months).
The age of your game, or amount of use it's had in the past can be a factor in service requirements as well. Just like a car, a rarely-driven one will require less maintenance than one that has been driven every single day. Typically, older, or more frequently-used pinball machines will require a bit more upkeep than newer pinball machines, too.
Q: "What parts will wear out or break on my game first?"This can vary from game to game, as some games have more "gadgets" than others. But the items that probably get used the most on any pinball machine are the flippers. Flippers are generally designed to be strong and reliable, due to the amount of use they get, but as they are typically used the most, they may be the first item to require periodic maintenance- either replacement of worn parts or adjustments from time to time to keep them operating at full capacity.
We do a full rebuild of all flippers on each game we sell, as a standard part of our full restoration process to ensure that the flippers work as well as possible, and will last as long as possible, during the use of your game.
Q: "Do we need to pay (use coins) to play our pinball machine?"Most all games have a "free play" setting that can be turned on to allow you to use the game without having to use coins in order to play. A select few older games may not have this option, but some work-arounds are often possible. Feel free to ask us to demonstrate how to turn on/off the free play setting on your particular game.
All games that we sell do come with fully functional and complete coin doors, including operational coin acceptor mechanisms and working coin switches, so you can "pay to play" or enable the "free play" option- whichever you prefer.
Some pinball dealers won't sell you a game with coin mechanisms, and one of our local competitors even charges $25 per coin slot to include the necessary parts to make the game take coins! All games came with these parts when new from the factory, so to leave them out, or charge extra to include them, is simply highway robbery! All games we sell come complete with fully functional coin slots and mechanisms, and enabled for "free play" operation, at no extra charge. You may use coins, or "play for free"- whichever you choose- and no extra charge either way!
Q: "Should I turn my pinball machine off when it's not being used?"All commercial pinball machines were originally designed to be operated 24hrs a day, 7-days a week, so they are pretty heavy-duty to begin with. But we do recommend turning your game off when it won't be used for more than a few hours at a time- just to conserve electricity and reduce heat build-up in the game, which can be an enemy to the electronics in the game.
Q: "We want a game for our cabin or vacation home- what is a good one to get?"For a game that will be away from home and generally not used for long periods of time (maybe only a few weeks or months out of the year), we recommend going with something newer that is fully electronic and that will be as reliable as possible. Most older electro-mechanical (non-electronic) pinball machines are strongly NOT recommended for use in remote locations, as they require regular play and operation to keep them in good working order. Newer electronic games will generally hold up better in remote locations where their use is limited and where more drastic temperature differences may be present (hot/cold weather).
Another consideration when buying a game for a remote location is service and repair work. Most pinball sellers (including ourselves) cannot often make out-of-town trips to work on games in remote locations, so it is best to pick a game that is newer and that will typically require less upkeep, just to limit the amount of service or maintenance that may be required.
A game that is relatively easier to transport to and from a remote location is a consideration, too- some pinball machines can be moved or disassembled easier than others, so you may want to consider this, too.
Keep in mind that no pinball machine is "zero maintenance". Just like a car, a pinball machine will require upkeep and periodic maintenance/repair to keep it in good working order, so remember to "think ahead" when shopping for a game, and consider service and maintenance as part of your shopping plans.
If you have a question that isn't answered in this guide, please e-mail us or call and we'll be glad to answer your question, and may even add it to our list here!