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Don't let your change maker be a money breaker

October 11, 2010
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If your goal is to grow your business, a reliable change machine is going to be a key component. While the machine itself does not generate revenue, common sense tells us if it isn’t working on a regular basis, it will cost you business and customers.

There are a lot of options for change machines on the market, and you can usually find one that will meet your needs in terms of accepting cash and/or credit cards and dispensing tokens, quarters, bills, etc. at a reasonable price. Service and support are important, too. You may have this machine for 15 to 20 years and you will want to deal with a reputable company that services and supports its equipment.

A little preventative maintenance
The two components that require the most preventative maintenance are the coin dispenser (or hopper) and the bill validator. To clean your hoppers periodically, empty hoppers and use canned air or an air hose to blow the dust and dirt out. Likewise, take care that you aren’t putting any foreign objects or wet coins in the hopper when you replenish them to avoid potential problems.

For the bill validator, you should periodically wipe the dust and dirt from the bill path with a clean cloth. Once again, you can use canned air or an air hose to blow the dust from the stacker box.

Checking for software updates on an annual basis is advisable. Most owners update only when new bills come out, but manufacturers are always updating the software to add improvements in other security settings or counterfeit detection to help protect owners from theft.

Security measures to consider
There are several features available that can provide added security measures, for instance, an automatic shut-off feature. This software program in the control board keeps track of the bills inserted. If the software sees the same denomination bill inserted several times consecutively in a short period of time, it will shut the machine down. An auto reset feature then starts the machine back up after a specified time. This feature helps minimize the financial loss of “stringing” theft.

There are a few other optional features that provide additional security measures:

Alarm: Look for a machine that can sound an audible horn and can also interface with the building alarm in case of a break-in;

Bills-in and coins-out counter: An odometer-style display counts the bill denominations accepted and coins dispensed for auditing purposes; and

Lock plugs: Look for a hardened steel lock with keys that cannot be duplicated commercially.

The best security for a carwash location is some sort of surveillance camera/monitoring system. It can be a deterrent as well as useful to law enforcement when reporting vandalism, theft and other crimes.

Change machines should be placed in a central location — convenient to the wash bays and vacuum/vending islands. The ideal placement would provide some overhead cover from the elements (such as a roof or awning), and protection from direct sunlight.

Knowing the potential jams
There are two areas of potential jams — the bill validator and the coin hopper. In the bill validator, jams are usually caused by very worn or wet bills that get “accordion folded” within the validator as it tries to stack the currency. These jams can be cleared by removing the stacker box and carefully pulling the bill out. You should clean the bill path when putting it back together and test to see if the validator is working properly.

Coin hopper jams will require you to empty the coin hopper and look for the cause of the jam. Many times it can be a foreign object that accidentally got mixed in with the quarters or tokens (such as a paperclip, staple, etc.) during replenishing.

Another problem might be caused by a different sized token getting into the mechanism at a bad angle. Carefully remove the object, then perform a dry test of the hopper (resetting the machine) to determine if it is ready to be put back in service.

If that doesn’t work, contact your model’s service center for additional support.

When to replace a machine
Like all electronic/mechanical devices, machine parts wear out. The decision of when to replace the entire machine is up to the individual owner. Our recommendation is that the changer should be replaced when the unit seems to be out of service more often than it should, or you are experiencing excessive maintenance costs over the period of one year. However, many machines allow you to replace components rather than the entire machine. Updating the bill validator, replacing a control board or power supply are usually inexpensive repairs when compared to the cost of a new machine.

The expected life of the popular bill validators on the market is between two to four years, depending on the traffic or activity levels of the location. If properly maintained, they may last longer. The machine cabinetry and most components can last a very long time.

The strength of a centrally located change machine at a carwash is that your investment for maintenance is primarily in the change machine. In-bay bill acceptors and credit card readers offer convenience for your customers, but are susceptible to vandalism and have a high replacement and maintenance costs. There are also costs associated with installation and support that you will want to carefully consider.

Since 2003, Michael Coons has been the vice president/national sales manager of Standard Change-Makers. He has been involved in sales, advertising and marketing management for small manufacturing companies for about 25 years. For more information, please visit