I was thinking about this as I was driving home today, what I would need if I was new to the hobby and wanted to buy a pinball machine.  So I thought a pinball buying checklist would be a good thing to type up for those new players to the hobby.  Here’s the list:

  • Make sure the game powers on.  If the guy has it in his garage not plugged in and says trust me it works, don’t believe it, try it yourself.
  • If it powers on, there are various states of working.  If it lights up but none of the displays work, this generally means there is an electronic problem.  If it starts up but won’t play a game, there are probably missing balls, a switch issue, or electronic board issue.
  • If it powers on and plays, the next step is to start making sure things on the playfield work.  This may be difficult if you’re not familiar with the game, but things to verify are usually:
    • do the flippers work and have enough power for the all of the shots?
    • do all the lights appear to work?
    • do all the displays appear to work?
    • do all the main features appear to work?
    • are there any major broken things?
  • Next it’s time to look at the cosmetics of the machine.  Look at the cabinet first.  Are there any major scratches or dings?  Is there any water damage or fading?  One of the most common things people miss is that a lot of cabinets are heavily faded, especially in the red color.  You can check for fading by having a picture of a perfect machine on your phone when you examine the new game.
  • Next move onto the playfield.  If the game is from the early 80’s, there’s a good chance there may be significant paint loss on the playfield.  90’s games and later usually don’t have playfield wear except for heavily used outholes.
  • If you’ve made it this far, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how functional the game is.  This means that it’s time to figure out how much the game is worth.  This is kind of a grey area, but the first place to start is probably the pinball price guide.  If you don’t have one of those, then the archived ads on http://www.pinside.com can be of pretty good use.  You’ll need to kind of classify each game into it’s own category.  I usually classify games into these:
    • non-working projects.  These games don’t work at all, and usually worth like 50% of what an average game would be worth.
    • partially working games.  These games work partially, but have weak flippers or things not working to some degree.  These games are usually worth like 75% of what an average game would be worth
    • fully working game, very dirty.  These games are usually worth like 90% of what an average game would be worth.
    • fully working and clean game.  These games are your average priced games.
    • fully restored.  These games may have new cabinet art, new playfields, etc.  These games can vary anywhere from 110% to 150% of the value of an average game.

Hopefully this pinball buying checklist is helpful for new pinball buyers.  Please contact me if you have any questions.

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