Spot the First Signs of Elevator Problems


Elevators are a safe and reliable mode of transportation for your tenants and visitors, but they still need regular inspection and servicing. Even then, as with all mechanical systems, problems can develop.

Not only can these issues lead to potential injury, but they can also cause expensive emergency repairs, excessive downtimes, unhappy tenants, code violations, fines — and possible legal liability. By learning to recognize the early signs of elevator problems you can always stay one step ahead.

Detecting the Early Signs of Elevator Malfunctions

Elevators need consistent maintenance to keep running smoothly, but problems may occasionally start to appear between service visits. This can be things like unusual sounds, jerky movements, or buttons that stop working. By spotting the early signs of elevator problems you can address them before they become expensive, disruptive, or dangerous, and you can save yourself major headaches down the road.

Let’s look at some potential warning signs to watch out for.

Elevator Problems You Can See
  • Horizontal Scratches on Door Exteriors
    Scratches are indicators that the doors are beginning to suffer from misalignment. Doors that are misaligned can cause breakdowns, and potentially trap passengers in the elevator cab.
  • Change of Door Speed
    If you see the doors slowing down or opening and closing erratically, it’s an indication that your operator system needs to be repaired or replaced. If this doesn’t get addressed early, it can lead to a total door system failure.
  • Temperature Too Low
    If your elevators are hydraulic, you should regularly check the thermometer of your motor room during the cold-weather season. If you see that the ambient temperature has dropped below 50 degrees, it needs immediate attention. Any cold-air leaks need to be repaired, and you may also need to install an oil tank heating system. If the oil in your system gets too cold, it can cause the fluid to thicken, and your elevators will grind to a halt.
  • Mis-levelled Stops
    If you notice that your elevator stops just above or just below a floor, it’s a sign that needs to be taken seriously. It’s not only a dangerous tripping hazard, but in places like New York City it is also a violation of DOB code. The regulations require elevators to stop accurately and consistently within a finite limit of 1/2-inch above or below floor level. If a gap is ignored, it will gradually grow bigger and become more dangerous.

Top Tip: In older buildings, mis-levelled stops are often caused by using an old, obsolete traction system that relies on mechanical brakes to stop the car. As they wear over time, their accuracy decreases. To remedy this, you should get the brakes serviced immediately. Alternatively, you may want to look at upgrading your elevator to a modern control system with electrical stops that have built-in tolerance levels that always land the elevator in line with the floor.

Elevator Problems You Can Hear
  • Screeching, Thudding, Banging and Clanging
    A healthy elevator runs quietly. If you hear unusual noises, your elevator is indicating that there are mechanical issues that are on their way to creating serious problems. These sounds shouldn’t be ignored, as any hidden issues can get worse over time. The quicker you address any audible elevator problems, the lower the repair costs and the shorter the downtime.
Elevator Problems You Can Feel
  • Speed Changes
    If your elevator speeds up or slows down significantly before stopping or if you notice the speed shifting, this is a strong sign of problems with cables, pulleys, and hoisting motors. To avoid a breakdown, contact your elevator technician as soon as possible.
  • Sudden Jerking
    Rough stops and jerking signifies that there is something wrong with the components that move your cab up and down, and it could be a sign that elevator failure is just around the corner. It’s important to address this quickly to avoid passenger injury and potential between-floors stoppages.
  • Unresponsive Buttons
    Whatever type of buttons you use in your elevators, you should keep an eye on any issues with them responding erratically. If there’s an occasional glitch, get the button/s replaced before they become completely inoperative. Unresponsive buttons will no doubt lead to huge frustration among your building’s occupants and visitors.

Did you know?
The “close door” buttons still seen in many elevators have often been rendered unresponsive on purpose, after the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act required riders with disabilities to always be given sufficient time to board the car.

Play It Safe — Always Watch for Potential Problems

To minimize problems and keep your tenants safe and happy, it is helpful to be vigilant to the above warning signs and other advance signals that preventative service is necessary. But one of the surest warnings of a major upcoming elevator problem is if constant breakdowns are requiring repeated service call-backs to keep your elevator running. If this is happening to you — or your elevator is more than 20 years old — it is time to consider a system upgrade or modernization.

We’re Here to Help!

For help evaluating your elevator system and determining a maintenance strategy, call our team at the Eltech Elevator Industries office at 718-933-0300.