Have some clear packing tape? Get 2 long pieces and tape a dollar bill on both sides of the bill. Start a little less than an inch on the end opposite of the side you put in first:
+-----------------+---+-----------+
|                 |   |           |
|       Tape      |   |    Bill   |   Side you place
|                 |   |           |   into machine 1st
|                 |   |           |
+-----------------+---+-----------+
Make sure you have a nice, new, clean bill so you won't get bubbles or wrinkles between the tape and bill. Also try to not to get the bubbles between the two pieces of tape. You should now have a dollar bill with a long tail of tape coming off the end. Make the tail at least 4 feet. Now you have a way to get a can or bottle of pop whenever you want (or any other thing that come in vending machines). Just put the dollar bill in holding the tape firmly, make your selection, and carefully pull the bill back out. If it doesn't work, you probably have bubbles. If you are sure there aren't any bubbles, then try another machine.

I have gotten this to work on about 10 different machines (every machine I have ever tried). Manufacturers of machines have started making ways to prevent this technique, though, so try older machines first.

I know this method works on machines made before 1997, after that it's anyones guess. So, what you do is you get yourself some common table salt, some water, and something to carry this all in (empty 2 liter bottles) seem to work well mix a metric shit-ton of salt into the water. Now, find the machine you wish to rip off and somehow get that salt water into the coin slot. Spitting it into the slot works well but you really do need to have a soda after that one. Funnels and things like that are kinda hard to get into the slot. So I always ended up spitting it into the slot. Which I guess means I just answered the age old question "spit or swallow?". Anyway you'll start to hear a buzzing, start hitting buttons while putting more water into the slot, when it starts spitting out sodas, stop with the water and keep hitting buttons, collect the sodas and go. This WILL damage the machine to the point it needs repairs, it will also empty out all the sodas in the machine. Well have fun, and be safe.

Another helpful hint from your weird uncle Frank
This (see ivan37's writeup about cheating dollar bill validators) is part of the reason why the United States vending industry lobbied so hard to get the dollar coin, both in the 1970s and more recently. (That, and the fact that dollar bill validators are much more expensive than the mostly-mechanical coin mechanisms, and much more trouble to maintain... Tell me, how many times have you seen a machine whose dollar bill validator was broken? Okay, now how often have you seen a machine that woiuldn't take coins, or even a specific denomination of coins?)

There are some dollar bill validators that are designed to prevent this -- I've heard of ones that have a blade inside that is designed to cut off any trailing bit from an accepted bill -- but of course they're more expensive, and probably only used on machines that take in more money.

My father told me a story of a soda machine that was ripping itself off -- coins were falling through to the change/coin return slot, but still registering as having been inserted. (I wonder if somebody used knarph's salt-water treatment on it.) Anyway, after inserting and receiving back the full price of a drink, he found that everything in the machine was sold out (I wonder why...), but he pressed the coin return and got repaid an additional amount equal to what he put in. I'm sure that if he was willing to stand there messing with it for so long, he could have gotten all the money out of the machine.

Later, when I was visiting him, the same machine had broken in the same way again. He pointed out to me two giggly girls spending an unusually long time in front of the machine, and then one of them went in the store and came out with an empty bag, which the other one filled with all the free sodas they'd been getting.

When they left, we went over and got ourselves free cokes. Just one each -- we're both too honest to do any of the stuff described in this node, but not so honest we'd pass up a free drink when we know the machine is giving them out.

The salt water technique works (or at least, worked) because the older machines sent an electric signal through the coins to test magnetic properties (slugs are magnetic, coins are not). This Achilles Heel could be exploited with ANY conductive liquid, not just salt water (bleach comes to mind). Of course, salt water is a bit less corrosive than bleach, which is extremely painful when splashed in the eyes.

The best method for getting this to work is to put at least one coin in while pouring the conductive liquid down the coin slot. Alternatively, you can try flooding the machine with salt water -- but this rarely works and you'll only end up with the tell-tale stream of water mysteriously coming from under the machine.

In my experience, once the machine has short circuited there are three possibilities: first, that the machine will simply die until reset; second, that the machine will give you any amount of soda you want; third, that the machine will give you change. You can tell the machines that will give money if you put in, say, five nickels, then press the coin return and get a quarter.

The harsh reality of the whole situation is that these salt-able machines are a dying breed. I once took a saunter over to MIT in the freezing cold across the damned smoot bridge figuring that MIT would have the largest supply of vending machines in the Boston area. With 2 two-liter bottles I was hoping to fill my sack with Coke and Pepsi, but instead got: one Lipton ass-flavored Tea and one Yellow-flavored Diet Shasta. Needless to say, the hike back across the bridge was not a happy one. YMMV
Coin detectors used in modern soda machines use several methods to detect the type of coin deposited. One of the most common methods involves a series of optical sensors and a coil that the coin passes through. As the coin passes through the coil, it changes the electrical properties of the coil. This electrical change is used to determine if the coin is valid and if the coin is an acceptable type.

To set up a new coin machine, it needs to be placed in test mode. The technician then sets the type of coin to be "taught" (for example, US dimes). The technician then runs a certain amount of dimes through the system, and the averaged electrical properties of the coins are stored in the machine's memory. This process is used for all other denominations. Some more advanced systems allow you to just upload a data file instead of pumping coins through the slot.

The optical sensors track the coins through the coin mechanism. If a coin is detected as invalid, a set of flaps are used to direct the coin back to the customer via the coin return cup.

Another way I used to use that did work sometimes uses one quarter. You need an ice pick, or other very sharp and durable object that can punch holes in things. Take your quarter and puncture it as close to the outer rim as possible. Make sure there are no lumps or dents on either side of the coin after you have made the hole - if there is a lump or dent where you made the hole, just pound it flat with a hammer. Now take some sturdy fishing line about three feet long and tie one end very tightly through the hole in the quarter. Make sure the knot is small and rests right on top of the outer rip of the coin - this will keep it from getting stuck inside of the machine.

Now find a machine that takes coins and insert your modified quarter into it very carefully while holding on to the fishing line. Let it go into the machine until it is counted - you should hear a click or something similiar. Then slowly pull the quarter out via the fishing line - don't yank on it because you might break the line. Pulling it back out might take some work, but keep trying. Just keep inserting it and retracting it until it thinks you have put in enough money to buy something - you may even get some change after you order. This whole process can take some time to complete.

This doesn't work every time and takes some practice to do successfully. I used mine on vending machines and arcade machines alike - with about a 75% success rate. Doing this was just part of my adolescent growth and discovery. I don't suggest taking the time to do this - but if you are a tightwad, go for it! It was fun while it lasted.

Have you ever seen the huge 20 ounce bottle machines, where everything is completely visible inside? When you put in your dollar and choose your flavor, the bottles move forward like in a snack vending machine, knocking the frontmost bottle down into a trap door, where it is retrieved? I don't know how common they are anymore, but if you encounter one, this is worth trying:

This works best with a friend. Simply have him/her stick his/her hand into the area where the pop falls out when it's purchased. They should be able to easily keep the trap door closed. Now buy a soda. Keep that door closed! After a few seconds, the machine will give you a credit for another soda, because it thinks the bottle got jammed somewhere. Each machine has a certain threshhold where it will not give you credits anymore, generally you can only do it twice, and then your money is gone. I remember when I first learned about this trick at my first tech support job...another guy about my age excitedly explained "You can buy three sodas for the price of one!," and went into detail about how to go about doing it. I soon realized that it was possible to buy infinite (well, not quite) sodas for the price of zero, by simply going for two drinks at a time, then hitting the coin return, letting the two pops and my dollar fall out, then starting the cycle anew. Because it was so seemingly obvious and easy to completely empty out the machine, it disappeared within weeks of everyone catching on to the trick. I doubt such machines exist anymore, and if they do, they probably don't give credits out...

What Happens When You Do This

or: Why it would be nice if self-centered technogeeks, anticorporate rebels, and teenage thieves actually thought about the consequences of their actions

People who steal from soda machines generally seem to think of themselves as cool anticorporate rebels, sexy bad boys, or clever technogeeks. I wonder if any of these people ever bothered to think about what they were doing.

My cousin Carol home-schools her kids. She feels (quite justifiably, I think) that the public schools in her area would probably provide the boys with a rotten education while immersing them in one of the more pernicious and nasty versions of Christianity. Plus, the boys are active and physical but slightly skittish, and they tend to do better with an adult who understands them and can tailor their education to their personalities.

As part of the kids' education, Carol decided that the family would invest in a half-dozen soda machines. This might seem a bit odd, but it's amazing how much you can learn from a soda machine. When the kids were young, she simply had them count Snapple bottles or soda cans or quarters or whatever. Then they learned how to count by fives and tens and twenty-fives. A bit later, they learned multiplication and division. Later still, they learned how to work with percentages and fractions.

She motivates the kids by using the twin rewards of free time and profit. When they are done with the accounting for the day--but only when they are done--they are allowed to go watch Spongebob SquarePants. They split the profits, and while the kids must put a certain amount in savings, they can spend the rest of it more or less as they please. Carol's portion goes into the family budget and gets used for food, clothes, and other necessities.

Along the way, the kids have learned some practical things, too. They've learned that lowering prices can actually result in an increase in revenue. They've learned that while it might be cool to give your friends free soda, it really sucks to have no money for two weeks. They've realized that they sell lots of soda in summer but not much in winter, and that it might be a good idea to save money in summer to get ready for winter. They've also learned that it's not a good idea to shake up the soda cans before you put them in the machine, because people leave you angry notes and refuse to buy more soda.

As I said, it's amazing how much you can learn from a soda machine.

A couple times a week, they climb into the car, drive to each machine, refill the soda, and collect the money. When they get home, they put all the cash on the kitchen table and start counting it up. I don't know if you've ever noticed, but kids love a glittering pile of coins. Offer a kid a choice between a stack of Benjamins and a pile of glittering quarters, and if he's young enough, he'll choose the quarters every time. They're pretty and they jingle and they sparkle, and that's about all that a little kid wants. He might have all of $4.35, but as far as he's concerned, it's a load of silver doubloons. So when Carol dumps the money on the table, the boys' eyes practically bug out of their heads. For whatever reason, Michael always insists that the pile is bigger than it was last time, even if it obviously isn't. He loves to grab fistfuls of change and let them drop onto the table, his giggles mixing with the clinking sound of the falling coins. Meanwhile, Jason starts listing all the things he's going to buy with his chunk of the profits.

So begins one of the most important lessons. It's one that many people would do well to learn: you can't spend money you don't have, and you don't have money that you owe to other people. So Jason and Michael must figure out how much they owe to other people.

"First," Carol says, "we need to pay for using the car. We have to pay twenty-five cents a mile for gas and maintenance. How many miles did we drive?"

"Twenty-two!" says Michael, whose job it is to keep track of the odometer.

"Twenty-two. That's right. So how much do we need to pay for the car?"

Jason counts out piles of quarters. "Four miles, eight miles, twelve miles, sixteen miles, twenty miles...and two more is 22 miles. Five dollars and fifty cents!" he exclaims, pleased to have figured it out himself.

"That's right!" says Carol. She takes four piles of quarters, along with two more from another pile, and puts them away.

The boys watch in dismay as the piles of glittering coins disappear into Carol's purse. This is THEIR MONEY, and it's going somewhere else. This is not good.

"Now we have to make our monthly payment for the machines we bought," says Carol.

They calculate it out. Quite a large number of coins vanish into Carol's purse.

"Now we have to buy soda to refill the machines."

Another few fistfuls of coins go away.

"Okay. Now we have to pay taxes. What's seven percent of our gross proceeds?"

Michael and Jason squeeze their eyes shut and start calculating. A few more stacks of coins go away, leaving a tiny little pile of coins for them to divide amongst themselves. They're not happy with this at all; they're still thinking about the huge pile of coins that they originally collected, and they're desperate to keep as much of it as they can. They understand (after repeated explanations) why they have to pay for the machines, why they have to pay for gas, and why they have to buy more soda. But taxes have eluded them entirely.

"What's tax, Mom?" asks Jason, for the fifteenth time.

Carol smiles. "Well, tax is what you pay to the government. It pays for things like the roads, the police, the library--"

The boys don't like this one bit. "But the librarian is really mean!" Jason says. "The sign says that we can take out six books, but she only lets us take out three!"

"Yeah!" says Michael. "She's mean! It's not fair! I don't want to pay taxes for the library anymore!"

It's settled, as far as the kids are concerned. But Carol knows better. "Sorry, guys," she says cheerfully. "You don't have a choice. You have to pay taxes."

If you've ever had kids, you know what happens when you tell them that they don't have a choice. Immediately there's a riot, because they'll do just about anything to prove that they do have a choice. Carol tolerates the resultant hurricane and happily informs them that the law requires them to pay taxes, and that the police will come take Mommy away if they don't, and that the kids can't vote and have absolutely no say in how their taxes are spent.

This is an important lesson, too.

Amidst lots of sniffling and whining, another large pile of coins disappears into Carol's purse, and a small stack of coins gets divvied up.

One day, Carol and the kids service the soda machines on the local community college campus. When they get home, the kids count out the money and discover they're short--seventy-five dollars short. Carol assumed that one day they'd have to deal with loss, either from theft or from machine malfunction; she figured it'd be a good way to get the kids to understand why stealing is bad. But she never thought that she'd have to deal with theft of this magnitude.

Seventy-five dollars is a lot of money. When you're a kid, it's an incredible amount of money, and hell hath no fury like a kid who knows he's been wronged. Michael is virtually in tears and wants to call the police, but Carol gently explains that they wouldn't be able to do much. Jason volunteers to ride his bike to the nearest machine and hide behind it with his dad's baseball bat so he can beat the crap out of the people who are stealing. Carol explains that this isn't a solution either, and that they probably won't get their money back. Ever.

It gets worse, because they still have to pay the bills. After calculating it all out, they discover that they don't have any money to buy more soda--all their gross profits had to go to pay for the gas and the machines and the taxes. Carol springs for the soda out of the family budget, and while that satisfies the kids somewhat, it's hardly a good thing. Remember that they're using Carol's chunk of change to supplement the family budget. So Not only did they lose the supplemental income, but they also incurred an unexpected expense.

When your income is at the lower end of the scale, that really hurts.

You see, you need to understand how soda machines work. Much of the time, they're not run by the soda company itself. Instead, individuals or small franchisees buy or lease the soda machines and stock them with soda bought wholesale from Coca-Cola or whoever. Once Carol and the kids have paid for the soda, Coca-Cola is out of it entirely.

So when a bunch of rowdy teenagers steals some soda from the machine, the family loses the amount they paid to buy the soda, purchase the machines, and use the car--and they lost the profits they would otherwise have made. But they still have to buy more soda if they want to keep the machine running.

Coca-Cola's loss is essentially zero. Carol and the kids bear the full burden.

I doubt I need to explain who suffers when you ruin the vending machine by pouring salt water through it.

So when you steal soda from a machine, you haven't necessarily hurt the gargantuan capitalist corporation at all (even if it were legitimate to steal from them). In most cases, you've hurt the local folks who are making only a small profit off each machine. Sure, there might be a fancy label saying that the machine is serviced by CJM Enterprises, Incorporated, but that doesn't mean much when almost anyone can print out a cool logo on a flashy peel-and-stick label. CJM, you see, is "Carol, Jason, and Michael," and the sticker is sparkly because that's what caught the kids' eyes in OfficeMax. The folks you rob might not be a family like Carol and the kids; maybe they're a retired couple or a small businessman trying to make do. But it's probably not a rich fat heartless capitalist. More likely, it's an everyday guy, a guy who's doing his best to make a decent living and feed his family. And every soda you steal is money out of his pocket.

Let me know if you still think you're cool for figuring out how to steal a soda from the machine. And if a furious nine-year-old kneecaps you with a bat, don't you dare come running to me. Hell, I'll be standing there cheering him on.

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