For those interested, below are instructions on how to find the June 9, 2015, NHTSA-ODI investigation announcement regarding the Fontaine Ultra LT 5th wheel trailer hitch:
- Go to this page on the NHTSA website;
- Go to the bottom of this page and click the blue box with the word “Equipment”;
- Just to the right of the blue box, choose “Fontaine” for the brand name;
- Do not choose anything for the “Part No./Model No.” box;
- Press the “Go” button;
- On the table on the next page, go down to “Fontaine Fifth Wheel” and over to the “Investigations” column, where you will push the “1”.
This should bring you to the page with the list of events leading to the investigation of the Ultra LT 5th wheel trailer hitch by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). We share this because it took a little effort to find, and we wanted to save you that effort.
Below are the significant events leading up to the investigation found in the NHTSA-ODI announcement.
On March 1, 2011 Fontaine Fifth Wheel issued Service Bulletin SB-10036732-7541 (ODI #10036732) describing a condition in which its Ultra LT 5th wheel could become partially closed during a trailer coupling process:
During the coupling process with Ultra LT model Fifth Wheel, it is possible for the driver to partially close the fifth wheel lock, and if solely relying on a tug test (pull test), that the Fifth Wheel lock is properly coupled to the trailer king pin, when in fact it is not properly coupled (from the Service Bulletin, found as above but go down to “Fontaine Fifth Wheel Assembly” and click on the “2” under “Service Bulletins”).
In response to this Service Bulletin, the ODI opened an investigation (PE11-012) on April 15, 2011. NHTSA says this investigation was opened “to better understand the false latch conditions on the Ultra LT 5th.” The investigation resulted in recalls from DTNA (11V289), PACCAR (11V388), Volvo (11V460) and Mack (11V461), but Fontaine did not issue an equipment recall, according to NHTSA.
A year later, on April 4, 2012, Fontaine issued a second Service Bulletin SB-10044108-5115 (ODI #10044108) describing another issue with the Ultra LT 5th wheel. In this case the operating lever in the fifth wheel could become bent (due to improper coupling techniques) to such a degree that the locking mechanism would not extend completely across the throat of the fifth wheel or seat fully behind the locking jaw. As a result of the bent operating lever condition, the Service Bulletin stated that a trailer could disconnect from the towing vehicle.
Fontaine later ceased production of the Ultra LT 5th wheel all together.
In its 2014 second quarter Early Warning Report, Fontaine reported one Death & Injury (D&I) crash. The crash resulted in two fatalities. On January 24, 2014, a semi trailer traveling on U.S. 50 in Ohio separated from a 2012 International ProStar tractor. The trailer struck two oncoming vehicles killing both drivers.
In April 2015, 4 years after its first Service Bulletin and over a year after the fatal accident in Ohio, Fontaine requested a meeting with ODI regarding the Ultra LT trailer hitch. The company had still not issued a recall.
On May 13, 2015 Fontaine and ODI met to discuss the wrongful death and injury crash on January 24, 2014, and a third service campaign Fontaine is considering for the Ultra LT 5th wheels.
On June 9, 2015, ODI announced it was opening an investigation to gather additional information, assess the conditions described in the two Fontaine service bulletins, and conduct testing of the Ultra LT 5th wheel. There was no mention of a possible recall by Fontaine in this announcement.