Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Buying a Pinball Buying a Pinball Hot

You've decided which game(s) you're interested in (see Deciding What Pinball Game to Buy), come up with a budget (see What's a Pinball Worth) and now you're ready to buy your first pinball.  Not so fast though, if you haven't really read the two aforementioned articles, do that first.  If you have, let's get started.

Finding a Pinball

Your first challenge is to find the pinball you want, in good condition and for a reasonable price.  If that sounds easy, it's not.  This is really a case of where you need to have a mindset of enjoying the hunt, not just the kill.  Plus, the more time you spend looking the smarter a buyer you will become.

Our first stop is the Internet: eBay, Craigslist and Mr. Pinball's Classifieds.  I'll tell you right up front I'm not a fan of buying a pinball off eBay.  They tend to be overpriced and I would never buy a pinball I hadn't seen in person.  Having said that, it is a resource and you might get lucky.

Craigslist is a good source for local games and the prices are more reasonable than eBay.  Be prepared though, if you come across a good deal you'll have to move quickly or it will be gone.

The last Internet solution is Mr Pinball's Classifieds.  I have personally never bought a pinball through them, but have sold several that way.  The prices tend to be slightly higher than craigslist, but a lot of these games are being sold by pinball nuts and are in better shape and worth the money.

The best place, from a price point of view, is the old fashioned way, the print media.  Check your local paper and any of the throwaway papers.  You won't find as many listings, but the prices are typically more reasonable when buying from a non-Internet savvy seller.  Sometimes these ads are also on the Internet.

While one might think the best deals are at auctions, that typically isn't true, although occasionally you will get a great buy.  First there are a lot of pinball newbies at auctions and they tend to get caught up in the excitement and overpay (sorry, but true).  Second I think buyers forget about the 15-20% premium plus sales tax (5-10%) paid to the auction house.  A 25% surcharge can quickly turn a good buy into a bad buy.

My last suggestion is estate sales.  You can often find older EM machines at very reasonable prices.


The best preparation is to find a pinball expert who wants to go along with you and help you out.  If that's not possible, do the following before you go look at a game.

Look the machine up on ipdb.org and familiarize yourself with the photos.  It is not uncommon to find plastics or even an entire assembly missing and this way you'll catch that type of issue.  They also have reviews if you haven't played the game before.

Bring along a small flashlight (for inspection), a notepad to make notes (writing down problems while shaking your head is a great negotiation technique) and most importantly bring Mr. Pinball's Pinball List and Price Guide and the Boston Pinball eBay sales summary.  Bookmark the pricing page and Determining Price section in the Price Guide.


See these articles: Inspecting a Pinball and Running System Diagnostics.

A few other comments.  When you start doing a thorough inspection the owner will likely say, "Oh. you know a lot about pinball." or "Oh, you know how to work on them."  Interestingly enough, the more they think you know, the more they think the games worth since you can clearly fix that minor problem (see below).  So just play dumb.

If the game is turned on when you get there, turn it off and back on.  I've had several people try to hide start-up problems by doing this.

If you are seriously interested based on the cosmetic condition of the game, don't be embarrassed to spend the time to check out the games working condition.  A good seller will not be bothered by that.


I've mentioned a couple of negotiation techniques already, but specifically want to discuss some issues I commonly come across.  The first is when the seller says, "It's just a minor problem."  My response is fairly aggressive (because I repair medical equipment for a living and would never go into their job and tell them that what they did was easy).

I smile and say, "Then you should get it fixed and then sell the game because I can't tell if it's minor problem or not.  So I have to presume it will cost some money to fix."  Feel free to be more polite than I am.

The second issue is morons who confuse the listing price on eBay with the selling price.  Honestly, the best move is probably just to walk away.  If not, be prepared with the eBay sales summary and the Price Guide.

You also want to use the Determining Price section of the price guide to justify any subtractions you are making from the price of the game.