The Problem

Anyone who has attempted to buy products from a vending machine has probably had the experience of having their money stolen. In the most egregious form of this problem, the vending machine takes the entire value of an item after a user selects it, but dispenses nothing. The classic method of achieving this is to place items on a corkscrew, which rotates less than the distance needed for the item to fall off of the end of the corkscrew. Partial losses of cash placed into the vending machine are also commonplace. The nefarious machine may eat a coin without acknowledging it by a corresponding increase in credit. Another scenario: one finds out that the desired product is not available and presses the change return button, whereupon the machine returns only part of the credit.

After years of being defrauded by vending machines, it's time to fight back. What life hacks may be used, when purchasing from vending machines, to avoid the loss of a quantity of money which does not result in a dispensed product?

Already Tried

  • Kicking vending machine
  • Swearing at vending machine

Standard Methods

I am not aware of any.

Note: It is possible that the best "solution" involves doing nothing, or not buying things from vending machines. However, such a course of action, regardless of how wise it may be, does not constitute a life hack; therefore, it is not a helpful answer.

  • 30
    Knowing which swear words you said to the machine can help us diagnose your problem.
    – bjb568
    Jan 11, 2015 at 3:21
  • 3
    So you're the poor sucker that keeps trying to buy the product after I get the machine to double dispense. : ) May 1, 2016 at 10:02
  • 2
    If you pay for the item again, usually you will get 2. Thats what i do, and according to my calculations, it works 76.99% of the time. Dec 16, 2016 at 0:38
  • I love how this question was asked!
    – papakias
    Aug 16, 2017 at 15:18
  • Have you seen Demolition?
    – user22124
    Sep 13, 2017 at 7:27

5 Answers 5


One way to help prevent losing money in a vending machine is to avoid the old style vending machines which are pre-programmed to turn a certain amount before stopping. These vending machines assume that the product will be dispensed after rotating for a certain amount of time and stop, even if it didn't vend.

Newer machines have sensors in them which will tell the machine whether or not a product has dropped to the bottom. If you look carefully, these machines will have a photo eye near the bottom. If one of these machines doesn't sense that something broke the path of the photo eye, it will continue to turn the screw little by little until it senses that something passed it. These kind of machines work probably about 99% of the time, and are much less risky than an old machine.


Don't buy from vending machines

You probably lost less than one dollar, so I doubt you'll go to court. However, if you still want justice...

Call the vending machine company

Every vending machine has a "For service, call (123)-456-7890" sticker. Call the number! If they won't help you, unleash the Better Business Bureau (US and Canada) on them.

Or just ask a manager in the building

As this comment points out:

there is likely [a manager or] someone in charge of handing back quarters for merchandise that didn't vend. Then the work is likely reimbursed by the vending company.

  • 1
    Most places where I've used vending machines are aware that this happens from time to time, like every other day... Just ask a manager what you can do at work, there is likely someone in charge of handing back quarters for merchandise that didn't vend. Then the work is likely reimbursed by the vending company. If your in a situation where there is no employees around, say at a laundromat and this happens, then call the vending machine company probably or if you can't find a number, call the laundromat owner.
    Dec 25, 2014 at 12:25
  • 1
    Every time I've had this happen where an employee is available, I've received a refund.
    – dgo
    Dec 24, 2016 at 18:23
  • 1
    Building manager says: "Yeah, those machine are the worst, whadder'ya gonna do (shrug)..."
    – einpoklum
    Aug 19, 2017 at 10:38

I find with corkscrew machines that if it hasn't quite turned enough for my item to drop, often buying another from the same number vends two. I go away with two chocolate bars, happy that I had a good excuse for my extra greed.


Since you say your problem is when

[...] a corkscrew [...] rotates less than the distance needed for the item to fall off of the end of the corkscrew.

I would recommend shaking the machine, which works in many cases where this happens. However, be warned that this is not a good option, as it can break certain machines (and not just in that one way). (also, if you do it wrong, you put yourself at risk....but I'll trust that you're smarter than that)

As was mentioned in comments above, I would recommend asking the people who run the machine for your money back; they're usually pretty cool with it. I happen to know the operator of the machine in my building personally (hence the above-linked question), so I don't shake the machine, but will usually be able to find him pretty quickly if I need him.

  • Shaking the machine almost never gains anything with the helical feed type, unless your product is mostly out of the spiral -- but it can and will result in damage and is dangerous -- the machine can tip over on the shaker before it seems close to overbalancing.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 15, 2016 at 12:32

To get back at a vending machine that has cheated you by taking money for out-of-stock items, has failed to vend, or was out of quarters for change yet still counted "air" quarters, simply unplug the vending machine. This will cause the vending company to loose a little business and therefore level the playing field.

  • 4
    The most likely results from a machine "mysteriously" getting unplugged with any frequency are either installation of security cameras, likely to be followed by discipline for the unplugger, or complete removal of the machine.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 15, 2016 at 12:30
  • Your own company losses business and money first; then the company.
    – L.B.
    Dec 15, 2016 at 13:51

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