Which is it? Coke machine, pop machine, soda machine, cola machine, soda pop machine, soft drink machine? The Pop Vs Soda page tells us that it depends on your regional dialect. As I am from a mixed dialect state, I'll be using these terms interchangably below.

The Modern Pop Machine FAQ v0.1
(For Use Inside the Home)

In this FAQ, we're defining a modern soft drink vending machine as a machine that has its drinks vertically stacked into trays. When vended, the drinks fall out the tray and into a shute below. This time-tested vending mechanism was introduced around 1970 and is still used in machines produced today. This faq is aimed at the user who wants to own and operate a modern coke machine in their own home.

What if I'm looking for old-time soda machine information? I haven't seen a good FAQ for this. But a good starting point would be the Coke Links at BrentRadio.com. All aspects of these vintage machines are likely to be significantly different from anything you will read here.


Not made for home use. Although this FAQ is aimed at home users, it should be clear that pop machines are not designed for home use. They are heavy duty machines that are designed to be serviced by trained technicians. Inside, there are potentially dangerous mechanical parts, high pressure lines, and exposed electrical connections. Pop machines are also very heavy, often weighing 400-1000 pounds, making them dangerous to move, or tip over. They can even be dangerous just sitting in place if your floor isn't strong enough to handle so much weight in a small spot! If all of this sounds like something that isn't for you, you might look at the SkyBox by Maytag. It may not be as cool, it will not have as much capacity or selection, and it can cost as much as a used coke machine. But it is made for home use. You can even stock it with beer and use the built-in lockout mechanism to keep children from getting at it.

You still want your own coke vending machine? Okay. Here is some information for you.

What are the choices in pop machines? There are some basic distinctions in the various models of pop machines. The number of selections (different drink choices it will hold that you can select from), the number of cans it can store, and if it will vend PET (plastic) bottles of various sizes or just the standard 12oz cans. Figure out what drinks you'd like in your vending machine and how often you think you'll be using it. Also figure out the cost of stocking it with those drinks. Most people stick with cans and with the major brands. But the nice thing about having your own soft drink machine is that you can stock it with whatever you want. (The hard part might be finding the correct label to put in your button for Diet Shasta Black Cherry!)

Other things you might care about are the general presence and appearance (for example, the graphics on the front). Do you hardly care what it looks like? Or must it have a certain appearance? Or certain graphics on the front? Are you a die-hard Coca-Cola fan? Mountain Dew? Perhaps you love those front panels for Seven-Up that are shaped like the number 7. But if you really don't care, you can probably get a machine with simulated wood trim and "COLD DRINKS" across the front for a little bit cheaper.

There is also the manufacturer, weight, and production year (for example, you might want an 80s machine to go along with your classic video games, or you might want a newer machine). Being for home use, you're likely not to care if it is able to vend bills, or if it has a high security door. Size and weight tend to work against you, but the bigger machines will hold more drinks at a time.

Do not underestimate how much size and weight will affect you. If it is too big, you simply won't be able to get it through some of your doors. And any steps up to and inside your home greatly increase the difficulty of moving the machine. If you are moving a machine any distance, you'll want to use a refrigerator dolly (like a normal dolly, but is bigger and has at least one strap that goes all the way around the machine to hold it in place). Any time you try to move a soda machine without a dolly (by sliding it or walking it), you risk damage to just about any floor (concrete slab will be injured to a lesser extent). So where you want to put your pop machine is going to have a big influence on what type of machine you're going to get. And if you care about your wood floors, don't even think of placing a coke machine on top of it.

Size and weight too much for you? You might consider the Coinco CT-48. It is small and can be wall or table mounted. I personally find them more attractive if they have they the graphics replaced with a major brand's logo. I have seen them with a standard plastic window with Pepsi graphics. I have also seen them with a vintage Coca-Cola logo painted onto the front panel. They don't quite vend like a standard machine with a vertically stacked tray, but they're otherwise close enough to be included in this document.

Is there a grading or rating system for vending machines? A few places will use them, but they aren't universal, and the meanings of a rating can vary from one place to the next. And not everyone uses them or even knows what you are talking about. (So don't go walking into a place and ask for a "B" grade machine.) Don't pin someone down and insist they use a letter. Just understand what they are offering for the price.

Typically, an "A" machine will be totally reconditioned on the inside and have new paint, decals, and logos. It'll look just about brand new. The more common grade (B or C, depending on whatever arbitrary scale they're using) is a tested working machine, but with a kind of worn appearance that is typical with being out in the real world. There might be some slight maintenance (oiling, etc) done. There are other places will label a "C" machine as having a compressor that cools well, but otherwise has not been checked, cleaned, or repaired.

Where do I find one? Soda machines might be everywhere, but you'll have to do a little work to find one for yourself. There are a number of ways that you can find a machine for yourself. You can buy one online, but your greatest problem is going to be transportation. (Crating and shipping for 600lbs is not cheap!) You might try eBay. Here is a search you can use to find some soft drink vending machines near you. What you'll find on eBay changes over time, and the number of items you'll find (and the prices) will depend on your area. You should also try local swap/trading magazines.

Most local vending companies will probably not want to deal with you. You are more trouble to them than you are worth. They don't want to sell a machine and have to hand-hold someone through all their problems. They make their living maintaining and stocking machines, not selling them. But shops that sell game room equipment (pinball machines, arcade games, pool tables, etc) to the public will be willing to work with you.

A word on dealing with gameroom retailers (even if they call themselves distributors or wholesalers or dealers). They're almost always going to have some selection of machines to chose from, and chances are, the very same machines will be there next week. Their usual retail customer has limited knowledge on what they're wanting to buy and are very very eager and have the money to spend. (What does that tell you?) Prices could be reasonable. They could be insane. Be careful. Also know what you're getting for the price. The machine has a few bumps and scratches, works, and is sold as-is? (This would be a common sale in the world of coin-operated merchandise.) Or do they offer extras? Totally refurbished and repainted? A warranty? And if so, what is covered, and where is it covered (will they work on it in your home or pick it up inside your home for free)? These are extras that you might find with a game room dealer, or a rare vendor who sells to the public.

If your primary goal is to get a good machine at a nice price, then you're going to have to do three things. First, be patient. Regularly watch local eBay listings as well as your local classified ads (in your newspaper, or once again, your local swap/trading papers). Second, know what you're looking for and in what condition you'll accept (cosmetically and electromechanically). Most people shoot for a working machine with a major brand name logo (Coke, Pepsi) that is in an average out-in-the-real-world cosmetic condition. Third, learn more about pop vending machines. The more you know about them, the less likely you're going to overlook something important. If you have to have your machine now, or you don't care to learn much about them before buying, that's fine. But expect to pay more. You might want to look at our FAQ on how to buy arcade games. There are some significant differences, but you're going to pick up some good tips there.

One of the strategies I'd recommend is reading up on the subject and learning a bit about it on your own. Then, visit the local gameroom dealer (without children, please). Pump those guys for information and learn anything more that you can. Have them show you the different choices in machines and how much they cost. Tell them you're a bit uneasy about loading the pop in and ask them if they could open the machine and show you. If you see the most amazing deal (not very likely to happen) take it on the spot. But I'd recommend waiting, even if you see good things. If you've asked some good questions, you'll have some idea of what they offer on what terms, with what support at what price. Go home and start looking on your own. This will give you time to mull over what they have to offer. If you get totally frustrated looking for a game on your own, or after you look around for a bit, you decide that the retailer's offer was actually a good one (perhaps after you add in any services they might include with the machine), you can always go back to them. And yes, I am not a big fan of some retailers (the used car salesmen type), but there are also some great guys out there to do business with.

Is it legal to have a pop machine in your home? I cannot give you legal advice, and I should tell you that if you have legal questions, you'll need to consult with a lawyer to determine any special local regulations which may apply to you. However, for the vast majority of people, the answer is yes. It is perfectly legal.

The only controversy that collectors of coin-operated devices have seen over the years is the allegation of running a business by purchasing and selling machines in some numbers. For example, buying some machines in bulk, fixing up and selling a few, and using the money to buy more and different machines. But by pointing out that they collect these machines and just like stamp or card collectors, and part of that includes buying and selling, (and perhaps due to the interest generated by the local media) they had a quick and favorable outcome.

Placing the machine outside and charging people to use it, however, is a different story. In many areas, if you vend drinks, even for less than cost, you are not free to place it out on your front porch for anyone to use. Most areas have regulations dealing with vending machines, and many require a special tax be paid and a new sticker applied to the machine every year. (And even then, zoning requirements may come into play.) You'll likely avoid those problems if you keep your soda machine inside or on the back patio.

The section below is for questions and issues with what you should do with your machine when you first get it.
You may have to wait 24 hours. If your pop machine was shipped laying down (for example, flat on its back in the bed of a truck), this causes oil to migrate out of the compressor. You may be eager to turn the machine on right away, but resist the temptation. You need to allow the oil to return to the compressor. NMCFARLING tells us that a 24 hour wait gives time for any air bubble to burst that may be blocking the oil return. This advice isn't particular to coke machines; it applies to anything that has a compressor.

Where do I get my hands on a refrigerator dolly to move the machine into and around my house? I used to rent a refrigerator dolly (aka "appliance dolly") from moving places like U-Haul. The main problem I ran into is that they often did not have a spare dolly on hand, or that they only wanted to rent them with trucks. What I've discovered since then is that the major home improvement stores will often rent equipment, they have a large number of appliance dollies on hand, and they were actually a bit cheaper. Home Depot is just down the street from me, and just under 24 hours with an appliance dolly cost me $14 including tax and "insurance".

Another tip relating to moving pop machines with an appliance dolly. An ideal dolly is one of those with four wheels (and the two nearest the top are retractable) and doesn't require heavy lifting and delicate balancing at the same time. It seems that nobody rents those, but if you do happen to get your hands on one, you're doing well. But even with one of those magical machines, you're likely to need a few people to help you. Big, strong, heavy people. Maybe even people who like to work for beer. People complain about moving arcade games, and they're nowhere near as difficult as these steel boxes. Yes. You have to be very very careful. If it accidently falls over, it can seriously injure or kill a person.

How do I open the machine? If you have this question, you may have missed the opportunity to ask questions from the person who previously operated the machine. On the front panel of the machine, on the far right and towards the center should be a silvery metal bar with a barrel lock in the middle. You use your key to unlock the barrel lock (typically requires only a 90 degree turn). At that point, the T-handle should pop out. (If it doesn't, you'll need to jiggle it around and free it up. Use some WD-40 on it while you're at it.) Remove the key from the lock. The handle, once released, works like a bolt which holds the front door to the rest of the machine. Unscrew the bolt by turning the T-handle counterclockwise until the door is finally free and will pull open.

What do I do if I wasn't given the key? If someone has a better answer to this, it would be appreciated. In my experience with arcade games, we would take a 1" drill bit and drill out the barrel lock in the center. Of course, if you do that, you'll need to have replacement parts or you likely won't be able to keep the front door closed. [Hint: Your local gameroom retailer is likely to carry such parts, if you can't find any place else locally. And there is always the Internet... but nobody who just got their pop machine wants to wait.] NMCFARLING says that'll work... if you want to buy a new lock AND a new handle to go with it. Here's how he does it:

"Center punch the 3/8 inch round part in the center of the cylinder. Try to be as close to the center of this as possible. Start with a nice sharp 3/16 inch drill bit and drill straight and true into the lock. Your accuracy has everything to do with this working. The material will be brass or a soft steel so it is not terribly hard to drill. After the drill has gone to a depth of about 1 and 1/4 inches the lock will pop open if you catch the latch bar. This bar is hardened steel and as soon as the bit catches it, it will turn and pull the lock bit down, allowing the spring loaded T Handle to release.

Just because this didn't work doesn't mean you screwed up. Far from it. Remember this is machinery and sometimes we just have to convince it that we are the boss. Next step, if you are so equipped, is to thread a 2 inch long 1/4 inch self threading bolt into the drilled opening and use your slide hammer to attempt to pop the latch off the cylinder. This will usually work on older, well used locks. A newer one forget it and go right to step three.

If the lock did not open for some reason, and you do not have a slide hammer, the next step is to drill the lock with a succession of larger bits. You still may catch the latch if you were a little off center, or will eventually get to the point where the pins in the cylinder are destroyed and the lock will open by inserting a screwdriver and turning it.

Do not beat yourself up if you fail in this endeavor. Most locks will open with less that five minutes work. I open five to twenty-five locks a month with these procedures, so they are proven and sound."
He then goes on to detail his personal horror story of that one particular lock that didn't want to open. :)

How do I put the drinks in the trays? Slow down, Tex! You've got some other things to decide and things you need to do (below) before you put drinks in the trays. This prep work is important and will save you the trouble of having to take all your drinks back out (or having some of them explode on you). But if you're at the point of putting the cans in, then read on.

Always, if there are instructions inside the machine, you'll probably want to refer to those first. [I will insert more information here with some pictures. I think this is difficult to explain without the pictures.]

Can I put Coca-Cola products in a Pepsi machine? Yes. There is no soda police. (Why do I see this being turned into a commercial?) You can put just about anything you want in there as long as it will vend it correctly. The machines may have Pepsi's logo on it, but they don't own or control the machine. Another example would be from the world of arcade games. You could have a Centipede game in your basement. But it doesn't mean that Atari owns it, or that you can't replace the game inside the machine with something else. You really do own the machine.

How do I know which tray goes to what button? You may not have realized this, but the order of the trays does not necessarily match the order of the buttons. Look and see on the inside if there are stickers with numbers next to the buttons and those same numbers next to the trays. If they are there, that'll help you make sure you load the correct tray with the correct drink. If not, you are going to have to experiment to figure this out. The easiest way (assuming your vending trays are currently empty) is to hold down the "sold out switch", which is a paddle inside the tray which tells the machine if it is out of drinks. See which "sold out" light goes out on which button. You may want to make your labels inside the machine right now so you'll have something to refer to later.

There are just a few pops left in the tray, but it says it is out and it won't vend them! In the world of computer science, we say that's not a bug, its a feature! What happens is that a machine will run out of pop, and eventually the vending machine guy will come around to fill the machine back up. But all the pop he carries with him is warm! So, after he leaves, the machine will give out the pops he just put in, people will have lukewarm drinks, and those customers will be very unhappy. To solve this problem, once the number of pops reaches a certain level (say, four or so) which is detected by a paddle connected to a "sold out switch", it says that it is out of the selection. Yes, pop machines lie to you! But with good reason.

Nobody wants a warm pop. And it is easier to control the temperature in the machine than to control the temperature of all the pops being carted around town. (That, and since the location where the pop machine is placed will pay for the electricity to refrigerate the inside the machine, it actually saves vending companies money! They don't need refrigerated trucks to make deliveries.)

Yet another reason why the machine keeps a few drinks in the bottom of the tray is so that the vendor won't have to waste time priming the vending mechanism with new cans. For maintenance, you can temporarily override this "feature" by holding down the drink sensing paddle (making it think there are more cans in there) and it'll allow you to vend out those last few drinks.

I've loaded the tray, but it won't vend any drinks. This could be caused by a number of things. First, you'll want to put in the exact change for a drink. When you do this, you should see/hear the relay (which allows for a selection to be made) has activated. If that never happens, you've either got a problem with your coin mechanism, or your relay.

If it returns your coins as you put them in, it could be a number of things. Are ALL of the drinks sold out? If so, it may not accept your money. If the "exact change" light is lit, and the price of a can is set to something low, like a nickel, then it won't accept it if you put in a quarter. Another reason it could return your coin is that correct change was already put in the machine, and it won't accept any more. Or finally, it could be modified in an unusual way for constant free vending, so all coins are always returned.

If the relay activates, and nothing happens when you make a drink selection, it could be a different set of problems. First, the switch connected to the button could be faulty. Or, it could believe that there isn't any of that selection left to vend. (Is the "sold out" light lit?) Try a different selection, and troubleshoot from there.

Finally, if you push the button and it seems to accept it but nothing gets delivered (and you can't make another selection afterwards), then you've got an issue with the vending mechanism. You'll need to see if the motor is turning below, or if the cans were put in properly, or what the issue is. Note that when you first load a machine, you'll want to try to vend a few drinks from each selection in order to get the vending mechanism properly loaded. The first few vends may result in no drinks coming out, so you'll want to make sure it has been primed.

The instructions above make reference to the Sold Out light and the Exact Change Only light. Of course, when troubleshooting, be aware that these lights could potentially be burnt out.

Do I need to load some coins in to make change? For home use, if you are going to allow you machine to take coins, probably the best recommendation is to take 25 or 50 cents for a drink. That way you won't have to worry about gathering up nickels and dimes to put in the machine. (The details on how to change the price of a can are given later in this document.) Otherwise, you can load up the coin changer from the outside by paying for a few drinks with nickles and dimes. Or, you can open up the machine and put the coins directly into each slot (quarter, dime, nickel) of the changer.

Why is it making a constant and evenly timed ca-chink, ca-chink kind of mechanical clicking noise? That sounds like your coin changer is trying to empty out all of the coins it has stored inside it. Look and see if there are any slide switches on the coin changer. Those are used to empty the mechanism. Flip the large switch or switches all to one side (then try the other side) to see if that fixes it. Do not touch any of the DIP (very small) switches.

Normally, as people would put money in the machine, it would store some of the coins inside of the coin changer. When it is satisfied that it has enough coins, it would drop any additional coins that it receives into a metal bucket below. Those switches are used to empty out the coin changers. Be sure you have your hand below the coin mechanism when you use them!

How should I set the temperature for the refrigerator? Somewhere inside the machine, you're going to see a round knob with some numbers on it. Hard to say where it is on every machine, but it is more likely to be inside the main body of the machine (not on the outer doors). On mine, it is a black knob with white numbers, on the right side, towards the bottom and just under where the cans sit. It works just like a temperature control in a refrigerator would. But be CAREFUL! You can use it to bring the drinks below freezing. At approximately 28F, cans of pop will rupture. And some diet drinks will rupture at only 30F.

If you're loading your machine for the first time, error on the side of caution and have it be too warm! Then slowly adjust it down over time and keep a thermometer at the coldest place inside the unit. Otherwise, you risk waking up the next morning to a slushy mess all inside the machine and on the floor. Yes, you could assume that the current setting when you got it is correct, and it likely to be somewhere near where it should be, but you do so at your own risk. On my Dixie-Narco 240, a setting of 3 is right at the freezing mark. The coldest setting is 9. So don't assume that 5 is average!

NMCFARLING adds: "Not all of the machines have temperature controls with numbers. DNC [Dixie-Narco] does, Vendo does not. Vendo is simply an arrow with a screwdriver slot in the middle, and the control is hidden under the can chute on the left side."

The newer vending machines will likely keep the temperature of the soft drinks within just a few degrees. (They even display them on the front panel, so you might just be able to set the temperature electronically.) The range will be somewhat wider for older models. When measuring the temperature, it is important to do it at its coldest point. That will be right when the compressor turns off. Ideally, you'll want to measure your temperatures at that time so you can catch it at the peak cooling temperature. The whole process of getting the best temperature, as you can probably tell, takes some time.

This also brings up an important point. Owning a pop machine usually isn't an instant gratification kind of thing. You have to put some planning and some work into it to get the best results. (Of course, if you have the money, and you can find a high-end retailer, they could potentially handle all those details for you.) For the rest of us, you can't just plug it in and expect everything to be ready to dish out cans. You'll see more of this in some of the other items below. I'm not a shill for Maytag, but I have to point out that you don't have this and some other problems with their Skybox, because it is made for consumers (and therefore, protects users against themselves). But as a result, one disadvantage of the Skybox is that the temperature control in these units won't get pop as nearly as cold as a real cola vending machine (because they're designed to totally avoid the possibility of drinks exploding).

Any special plug-in or outlet required? Required? No. Highly preferred? Yes. For your protection, you should plug the machine into a GFCI outlet. Should water leak from the refrigeration unit, or it have some sort of wiring malfunction, a GFCI outlet could save your life. Other than that, your pop machine typically doesn't draw enough amps to require a special outlet or dedicated circuit. The plug to a soft drink vending machine should have three plugs (two plus a ground). If the ground is missing, you're risking quite a bit by plugging it in. If you have the know-how, replace the cord or install a grounding wire. Otherwise, an electrician can typically perform this service for you for something close to the cost of a basic service call.

Any strategy for what buttons should go with which drink? Generally, you'll want your most popular drink selections to be on the top few buttons, with the less popular choices on the bottom buttons. This also goes along with how the trays are arranged inside many machines. For example, you may have a machine where trays #1-3 (numbered after the top button selections) are double width trays Those will hold twice as many pops as the standard trays #4-6, which are connected to the lowest buttons on a 6 selection machine. Out in the real world, you'd put Pepsi in the #1 button, and the (fictional) Diet Caffeine Free Cherry Crystal Pepsi in the #6 button. In your own home, you'd put whatever drinks you'd go through the quickest on the #1 slot, and then your least favorites (or perhaps drinks for occasional guests) on the lowest slots.

What do you do if you have 10 selection buttons, but you only have 8 or so different drinks to vend? If you have settled on eight different selections, and you know you're not going to add some new ones, the best thing to do is to fill the extra two slots with more of the drinks that you like most. So if the first button of Coke runs out, you can use the second button of Coke until you get around to refilling the first tray.

The other option (if you don't want to go out and buy hundreds of cans) is to put a label inside the button for a less popular (or even unpopular) drink, leave the tray empty, and have the Selection Out light turn on for that button. Looks good enough to leave, and if you want to add another drink selection later, you're in a position to easily change it. Of course, you could just buy a six or twelve pack of those horrid drinks and put them in there. You never know... someone may actually like them! And with so few of those drinks in a tray, it'll be easy to take them out and replace them with something else later.

Where do I get the labels for my buttons? You can get them directly from the source, "NBS" National Beverage Screen Printers. Call 1-800-325-9021. You can order labels right over the phone, although my experience with them is that they are rather impatient with questions. You have to order in packs of 25 of 1 label, 1 size, for $6 each plus shipping. They accept Visa or Mastercard. They also have a website at www.nbsinc.net. It doesn't make much sense for the average person to buy through them, though, because of the quantities required. But you can always use them as a last resort.

There is also a secondary market for these. There are various websites that have them for sale. You'll see them on eBay, too. And don't forget your local gameroom dealer. There is also a guy on eBay who sells CDROMs with flavor label images, ready to print. Yes, the industry calls these things "flavor labels". NMCFARLING offers to sell 8 small major brand selection strips and a price sticker, including postage, for about $6. You'll have to ask about other sizes.

UPDATE: I took a trip to my local Pepsi-Cola bottling company. They willingly provided flavor labels just for the asking, and no charge. (This is not a promise that they'll always be free, but I think it is likely.) They said that they thought it would be fine for people to go to their local bottling company for labels. But mine only had the new smaller labels, not the bigger ones used in older machines. (You could potenitally put those on a color copier and resize them, or you could put them on a larger white card for backing.)

Anything special I need to know if I order them? Before 1990 or so, they were all different sizes (so be careful that you get the right size). Remember that it is better to get a label that is slightly too big (and to have to trim it down a little) than to get one that is too small. But if you work with a label that is way too big, its going to look funny when you trim it.

After 1990, they standardized on all buttons being 3 9/32" wide and 1 5/8" tall. (This is the "small size" version.) This was the standard, at least until recently. The new High Visibility machines now being produced have extra large drink selection buttons. So much for standards.

For some reason, if a label is 4 inches wide and 2 inches tall, they'll actually refer to it as a 2" x 4" format. They reverse the numbers so where the height is first then the width it second. Don't know why. But keep that in mind when you are purchasing labels.

I can make my own flavor labels? Absolutely. Ideally, you'd want to print them on something transparent, like what would be used for an overhead projector. If you're wanting something quick and easy, you could cut the cardboard logo out of a twelve pack (assuming the logo printed on it is small enough to fit). The disadvantage to using the cardboard is that you'll have to cut a hole for the Sold Out light, and it will be difficult to see in the dark (no backlighting).

When you create or cut your own label, you'll want to be able to pull it out again! Be sure to make one side (the side you'll be inserting the label from) have some extra space sticking out so you'll have something to grab onto. That'll save you the tedious work later of digging and digging into a button to get the label out. (For real flavor labels, NMCFARLING says you should put a little "tail" on it with scotch tape before inserting it into the slot.)

If you have your coke machine outside, be aware that unless you used some special fade resistant ink, home made labels (or even labels cut from boxes) may fade over time if exposed to sunlight.

If you need something even more quick and dirty, write or print the name of the drink "SPRITE" on a piece of paper and stick it in there. It looks tacky, but it beats having a blank see-through button or (worse), a completely different drink on the button and having to explain to everyone, "It says it is Mountain Dew, but it really gives out Sprite." You'll get tired of saying it, and you'll look stupid every time.