General Maintenance Tips for the New Pinball Owner
Removing the Playfield Glass: Simply open the coin door, then you will see a lever on the top or right side of the opening. Move the lever either down on some games or to the left on other games and it will unlock the lockdown bar (front molding) that holds the glass in place. Remove the lockdown bar by pulling it straight up and the playfield glass will slide right out the front of the game. Use caution in handling the tempered playfield glass. One good bump of the edge on a concrete floor will cause it to explode in your hands!
Lifting the Playfield: Did you know that the whole playfield can be lifted into the upright position after the playfield glass has been removed? You didn’t think we crawled inside to work on the games did you? You may need to look under the playfield to change a bulb or two once in a while. After removing the playfield glass, remove the balls from the game too or they may come flying out and smash into other parts of the game. Then grab the lower apron and pull up. The playfield can then be pulled towards the front of the game and rotated into the full upright position, leaning on the head of the machine. There is also usually a prop-stick inside that you can use to hold the playfield at a 45 degree angle if you don’t need it fully upright. Don’t slide the playfield too far forward or you may knock it off of the support rails and smash some pieces off of the game. Take it slow and easy.
Cleaning your Game: Clean the playfield glass regularly with a good glass cleaner. When cleaning the cabinet of a game, always test a small area when using a new cleaning product to be sure that you will not damage the cabinet paint or artwork. When cleaning a playfield, never use any water or petroleum based products. Most people use the Novus line of plastic cleaners and polishes to clean modern pinball games. After cleaning, you can put a fresh coat of wax on the playfield. I like to use automotive carnauba-based paste wax, but there are many waxes to choose from at the store. Just be sure the wax does not contain petroleum-distillates as they will harm the plastic parts of the game. You should also generally never clean the back side of a painted backglass and use caution when cleaning the back side of a plastic translite. You could wipe the paint or ink right off!
Balls, Balls, Balls: Replace the balls on a regular basis! At least every couple of years. Pitted and scratched balls will cause premature playfield wear and replacement playfields are few and far between and super expensive too!
Batteries: Did you know that all digital/electronic pinball machines have batteries installed in them? The batteries are used to hold game settings, audits and most importantly, high-scores when the game is unplugged. Some games use standard AA batteries to accomplish this, while others can use ni-cad or lithium batteries that are soldered directly to a circuit board. Many service calls that we go on are the result of these batteries leaking and destroying the circuit boards in the game. You should periodically replace the AA batteries in your game, or if your game has the latter type of battery, you should at least inspect it to see if it has started to leak so that the problem can be arrested. A couple of minutes of time now can save you hundreds of dollars later! Note that if you change the batteries with the game powered off, you will lose the game settings, audits and high-scores. Batteries can also be changed with the power on so you won’t lose any data, but be careful in there if you do it. There are no batteries in EM (electro-mechanical) games.
Light Bulbs: It’s a simple task to change a light bulb, but please do it with the power off. If you should happen to drop a light bulb into the “wrong place” when changing it, did you know you can short out your whole processing unit in the game? Save yourself an expensive repair by powering the game off when doing anything to the machine.
Fuses: Sometimes fixing a problem in a game is as easy as replacing a fuse. But if you replace a fuse, always use one of the proper value and type. There are slow-blow and normal or fast-blow fuses. Putting the wrong fuse in a game can cause more serious and EXPENSIVE repairs. If a fuse blows as soon as you turn the game on, there is likely a short somewhere under the playfield or a component has gone bad on a circuit board and you should call a qualified repair person. Fuses are there to protect the game, not to make your life difficult.
Game Problems: If you turn a game on and notice an immediate problem, like a locked-on pop bumper or kick-out hole, or the game starts to make weird noises or locks up while playing, TURN IT OFF IMMEDIATELY. If the game is left on in that condition, you can exponentially increase your repair costs. Sometimes turning a game off and back on will solve a problem, but if it doesn’t, get in touch with a repair person before trying to play it again.
Transporting a Game: Did you know that the head of every pinball machine can be either folded down or totally removed and that the legs come off too? Many people don’t know this, believe it or not and try to move the whole thing in it’s upright position. Don’t risk dropping and breaking your expensive game by trying to transport it fully set up. It’s fine to move it around a single room while set up, but break it down when moving any great distances or up and down stairs!
Removing/Folding the Head: Older games (late 70's or early 80's and prior) will require disconnecting the wiring harness that runs from the head into the cabinet. If you think you'll get the connections confused, mark them with some tags. Newer games or basically any game with a hinge at the bottom of the head will not require disconnecting any wiring. On both newer and older games, simply remove the bolts on the inside floor of the head that fasten it to the lower cabinet. You can get to the bolts on some games by removing the back door, on other games you need to remove the backglass. On older games, the whole head can be lifted off (get some help!). On newer games, simply rotate the head downward towards the body of the game and use some straps to hold it in place.
Removing the Legs: The next step in getting the game ready for transport is removing the legs. First, make sure you have removed the balls from the game! Now, lift the rear of the game and have a friend slide a stool, small step ladder or saw horse under the back. Now, unbolt the rear legs and remove them. Now lift the rear of the game with your friend and slide the stool out from underneath. Then, carefully lower the back end of the game to the floor. Now simply stand the game on end and unbolt and remove the front legs. Reverse the procedure for reassembly.
Play Your Games! You should regularly play your games to keep them in good working order. Turn on electronic games at least once a month to keep those pesky batteries in good working order. Electronic games that go for long periods of time without being turned on are most likely to have corrosion damage due to battery leakage. EM or Electro-Mechanical games should be played, REALLY PLAYED at least once a month. The switches and relays on older machines are generally self-cleaning, but in order to stay that way, the machine must be exercised semi-regularly. An EM machine that hasn't been used for years can cost hundreds of dollars in labor just trying to find switches that are no longer working due to non-use. Playing games to save money... what a concept!