This is the view of an elevator car top that was produced by Phoenix Modular Elevator.

What’s on an elevator car top? Besides Bruce Willis

Untitled-1When you’re riding in an elevator car and look up, either out of boredom or to avoid eye contact with your fellow passengers, all you typically see is a ceiling, some lights and maybe an exhaust fan. But, if you look closely, you might make out the outlines of an escape hatch, a small door in the ceiling of elevators.

Have you ever let your mind wander and imagined what might be on the other side of that trap door? If the movies are true there is plenty of action and adventure through the little emergency exit. Just ask John McClane from Live Free or Die Hard or Neo from the Matrix. Follow me and I’ll show you….


First rule that you should know is that you can’t crawl out the escape hatch.  It’s a safety thing.  The elevator code writers rightly figured out that providing a means for heroes or villains to crawl out of the safety of the car and potentially fall down the hoistway was a really bad idea.  So now the code requires that the hatch can only be opened from the top of the car, and when it’s opened it shuts the elevator down.

In another post we will tell you how real life heroes, fire fighters and elevator mechanics, can get onto the cartop in case of emergencies or repairs, but until then, instead of crawling out the hatch, let’s just magically transport ourselves up top through the miracle of the internet and photography and take a look.

This is a standard hatch with lock and safety devise to stop the elevator if someone opens the door.
This is a standard hatch with lock and safety device to stop the elevator if someone opens the door.

Hatch:  Here’s what the hatch door looks like from above. In this version, a simple latch keeps it from being opened from inside the car.  And the device in the lower right of the photo is a plug that stops the elevator if or when the hatch is opened. When the hatch is opened, it pulls the plug out of the socket, which interrupts the power to the elevator. Simple and effective. Now that we’re up here, let’s see what else we find.

The inspection station of a Phoenix Modular Elevator.
A close up view of the Inspection Station.

Inspection Station:  This is a magic box that lets the mechanic move the elevator up and down from the cartop.  Yep, the cartop is sturdy enough to double as a work platform, and the elevator mechanic can position the car to access the rails, the hatch doors, and the machine at the top of the hoistway if the elevator is a machine room-less type (MRL). This inspection station often has a work light and an alarm bell attached to it.  It will also have electrical outlet so finding a place to plug in tools is not a problem.

Crosshead:  The crosshead is a heavy metal beam that runs across the top of the car. It provides additional stability to the car sling (the metal framework that the elevator car sits on), and provides a convenient place for the elevator mechanic to sit down and eat his lunch.

The door operator makes the door open and close.
Door operators look complicated but simply open the elevator doors.

Door Operator:  You will also see the door operator, which is the mechanism that opens and closes the elevator door.  It consists of a motor and a pulley, driven by either chain or rubber belts.  If the car has doors on the front and back, then each one will have its own operator, making it a bit more cozy on the cartop.

Fan:  The fan pulls air through the car to keep it ventilated. This helps dissipate heavy perfume or bad body odor, and keeps people from suffocating if they were to get stuck in the car for days without rescue.

Conduit:  With all the electrical equipment on the cartop, you need a way for the wires to get from the main trunk cable to the individual equipment.  Conduit and trough provide that path, and protect the wires.

The laser curtain is controlled by this unit as a safety devise.
This unit controls the laser curtain that re-opens the elevator doors if there’s an obstruction.

Light Curtain Power Unit:  This is the electronic brains of the infrared light curtain that keeps the doors from closing if there’s an obstruction (body part, furniture, high-heeled shoe).  From the top of the car if you look down, in front of the car doors (don’t lose your balance) you will see two black strips on either side of the opening for the elevator door. These transmit invisible beams across the opening.  If the beams are broken the elevator knows it and the doors open almost like magic.

And magical is what this tour of the top of an elevator car has been. Hopefully, this excursion will suffice, because unless you are a trained elevator mechanic or starring in a Hollywood movie, it will probably be the closest you ever get to the top of a car. So, so-long for now and “Happy Trails.”

5 thoughts on “What’s on an elevator car top? Besides Bruce Willis

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