On Shopping for Pinball & Leaking Batteries

Recently a World Cup Soccer 94 came up on Craigslist that was just too enticing to not go see, so of course I did, and ended up buying it… Like I didn’t have enough projects in flight already 🙂

Here’s my checklist of what to look for when purchasing a pinball machine:

  1. Playfield condition. Dirty can be cleaned, but if the artwork is worn, that’s a bigger project to repair. A dirty game may mean the owner doesn’t properly care for the game, though.
  2. Playfield parts. Are the ramps or plastics cracked? Does it look complete? Look at photos of a good example of the game online, and bring them with you.
  3. Cabinet condition. Is the artwork faded? Is the cabinet dinged/scratched? Are the legs rusted? Coin door condition?
  4. Displays. Working properly, clear and bright?
  5. Smoke damage. Open the coin door and smell the inside of the cabinet. Does it smell like cigarettes? If so, and you put this inside your house, it will reek of cigarette smell.
  6. Play the game. Are the flippers strong? Do the mechanisms all work?
  7. Finally, check the circuit boards in the backbox. Have the batteries leaked, damaging the boards/wiring? Are there any molten/damaged connectors?

Which brings me back to my World Cup Soccer purchase. Everything looked good on the game, but there’s one thing from my checklist above I couldn’t look at – the circuit boards in the backbox. Why? The owners had lost the backbox key! It meant I couldn’t check for leaking batteries and damage to the boards, and those boards can be expensive to replace… The game had been in storage for a long time and I knew the batteries weren’t working as the game would reset to factory defaults upon powering up, but I took a gamble and bought the game anyway as the price was right.

When I got home, it was trivial to unscrew the backbox lock using my security bit set from Harbor Freight, and sure enough the batteries were leaking badly! Thankfully though, Williams addressed the leaking battery problem in that generation of games – they placed the batteries on a self-contained daughterboard over the CPU board. The idea is that if the batteries leak, hopefully the damage is self-contained to that board. And sure enough, in my game, there wasn’t any damage beyond the battery board:

wcs-batt-1

I used a wire brush and some vinegar to clean up and neutralize the caustic material that had leaked out of the batteries, then sanded the battery pads to make sure they were back down to bare metal for a good contact. After cleaning with distilled water, the board was all set to go back in the game!

wcs-batt-2b

Good as new, and the machine’s back-up battery memory function works once again!

More on the World Cup Soccer shop job in later posts, but back to the topic of purchasing pinball games… Even though I got lucky and there was no permanent damage from the leaking batteries, I really wish I had been able to examine the backbox before buying the game.

So, I’m adding an item to the top of my list of Things to Bring With You When Shopping for a Pinball Machine:

  1. Security Bit set, so you can get into the backbox without the key
  2. 5/8″ socket and wrench. Don’t assume the owner has one, and you need to take the legs off to bring it home!
  3. Flashlight. Thankfully my phone has one built-in 🙂
  4. Pinball Skates. These make it way easier to move games around.
  5. The Pinball Lift Frame I made myself. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used this now!
  6. Truck with cargo straps
  7. Cash. Having cash on hand and everything else you need to carry the game away is a pretty good negotiating tactic – buyers will be much more willing to bargain with you than with someone who says he’ll come back for it later.
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