How to Buy a Pinball Machine: Everything you Need to Know

So you’ve thought about buying a pinball machine for your man cave but don’t know where to look or what to look for? A pinball can be a great entertainer and look for your man cave, and maybe even an investment.

Before you dive in and purchase one let’s go through the pro’s and con’s of owning a pinball

Pros of owning a pinball machine

  1. Entertaining – Pinball is fun. Not only will it provide entertainment value for you but any of your buddies that you invite over.
  2. Man Cave Aesthetics – If you have the room in your man cave and a bit of spare cash then owning a pinball machine will definitely produce the wow factor.
  3. Tinkering – If you are a tinkerer then a pinball is definitely the purchase for you. There are many resources on the internet outlining various mods you can make to a pinball machine. Every man needs a hobby, why not start one with a pinball machine?
  4. Free play (well sort of) – Once you purchase a machine then of course it’s free to play. Some people just spend countless amounts of cash to play their favorite pin at their local arcade. Do the math, how much would you save by owning the pinball yourself?
  5. Investment (maybe) – This is a big maybe… Yes you can make money from buying and selling pinball machines. Some do appreciate in value, but these are extreme cases, usually reserved for buyers who know the market. Don’t buy a pinball simply as an investment. Buy it for the other reasons here.

Cons of owning a pinball machine

  1. Cost – A cheap pinball machine will only cost a few hundred dollars but a new or collectible one will cost $15k and upwards. Not a cheap investment. There is a great deal of time that goes into manufacturing a pinball so expect to spend a good swag on money
  2. Maintenance – Unlike other games like darts, or pool tables, pinball machines need to be regularly maintained in order to keep them in good working order. I pinball is like a car in many ways. Regular maintenance (or servicing) will keep both in good working order.
  3. Moving Parts – All pinball machines use a lot of moving parts. My experience in servicing them is that parts will break and on a regular basis. Some of these parts will not be critical to the gameplay so they can be fixed or replaced at your leisure while other parts will stop the pinball from functioning altogether. Examples of non-critical fixtures may be things like lights, while critical parts may include parts like a flipper solenoid valve. If you do decide to service the pinball yourself then it pays to keep some of these spare parts yourself.
  4. Cleaning – Although contained within a glass cabinet, dust still gets into a pinball machine. Regular cleaning is essential to keep your pinball operating and looking good. The frequency of cleaning will also depend on how many games you play. The balls pick up a lot of dirt and dust which gets distributed around the playfield as you play.
  5. Getting it Home – If you can get delivery of your pinball then this won’t be a “con” but for everyone else this is something you definitely need to think about before purchase. Pinball machines are large. They don’t fold up and fit in the boot of your car.
  6. Depreciation – If not properly looked after, a pinball machine will deteriorate and hence will depreciate in value.
  7. Noise – Pinballs are noisy. After all they were originally designed to be used in a bar or arcade environment

Things to Consider Before Buying a pinball

  • Is it fun to play?
  • Is it in my budget?
  • Do you have the space?
  • Types of pinball machines (EM – Electro-Mechanical, SS – Solid-State)
  • Weight? (Machines can weigh 200-300 pounds)

What should the pinball be worth?

There are many factors that contribute to the value of a pinball machine:

Game Title: Some pinballs are just more fun to play than others. This makes them more desirable and therefore add to their overall value.

Appearance: There are some machines that just look better than others. Aside from how clean it may be. Overall appeal goes a long way to adding to their value.

Condition: Like a used car, you can find gems as well as lemons. Because pinballs have so many moving parts, breakdowns will happen. Properly maintaining a pinball helps with it’s longevity

A great resource is Pinpedia. A pinball encyclopedia website that shows details on every pinball machine ever constructed as well as results from auction sales. A very handy resource indeed! Also check out Pinwiki for more pricing information.

Don’t be in a hurry to buy your first pinball. Study the market for a while to get a feel of what a pinball should be worth.

Do pinball machines appreciate or depreciate in value?

Pinball machines can increase in value. Of course there are many factors that contribute to whether a machine increases or decreases in value. Any increase is usually minimal over time. Many pinballs that are owned privately aren’t serviced properly and because of this, any appreciation will be negated by poor servicing.

By looking at simple supply and demand for a game title, one can hopefully work out if there is more of a chance of the machine increasing in value.

Buying Checklist

  • The Look – A pinball must be enjoyable to play but don’t forget about the look of the machine. Check the paint and prints for signs of wear.
  • Ask the seller for everything they know is wrong with the machine (Don’t believe them if they say the fault doesn’t affect the gameplay… try it yourself and make a decision)
  • Run a self test – All SS machines allow you to run a self diagnostic test. This test checks switches, display, lights among other things.
  • Playfield Objects – If you buy a machine that is not complete with the playfield objects then these will impact the overall playability, appearance and value. Some objects, such as ramps can be very hard to replace
  • Backglass – This is one of the most important parts of a pinball. Make sure it’s in great condition. The backglass can be a very difficult part to replace also.

How to Transport a Pinball Machine (the right way)

Follow these simple steps to move a Pinball machine:

  1. Remove the ball(s)
  2. Fold down and secure the backbox (place padding between the backbox and the cabinet before folding it down, you will need a strap to secure it)
  3. Remove the back legs, set the back end down, and lift/rotate the cabinet onto the back
  4. Remove the front legs is an old resource but still have some excellent information on choosing a pinball, moving and inspecting.

Great Resources

Pinside has a great forum for beginners all the way through to experts.

Pinwiki is a great place for gaining information on pinball machines

IPDB is a great source of information of every pinball ever released


Be patient! You can usually buy the pinball you want but it may not be for the price you want to pay! Negotiating with the buyer can quite often save you thousands of dollars.

Learn to read Schematics. It’s the roadmap for your pin.

Don’t buy off eBay. You want to inspect the pinball before you make an offer.

Try to find people near where you live who own pinball machines. Talk to them, see what their experiences are and what knowledge they have.

Now that you’ve bought a machine, all you need to do is master it.