The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a Preliminary Evaluation for approximately 6,000 Fontaine fifth wheels. One fatal crash in which two drivers were killed is the catalyst for discovering the root cause where the fifth wheel is suspect.
According to an Office of Defects Investigation document, Fontaine’s Ultra LT fifth wheel may be susceptible to becoming partially closed during a trailer coupling process. Drivers who conduct a pull test to determine whether or not the lock is properly coupled to the king pin could be led to believe all components are in place when they are not.
Fontaine issued a Technical Service Bulletin about the condition on March 1, 2011. Technical Service Bulletins, or TSBs, recommend the best way to repair a vehicle’s possible defect that has been identified by the manufacturer. Unlike a recall, dealers are not obligated to call in vehicles, and repairs are not required to be free of charge.
After an ODI investigation was launched on April 15, 2011, more than 2,000 Freightliners and a few hundred Paccar, Volvo and Mack trucks were recalled. An equipment recall was not issued by Fontaine.
One year later, Fontaine sent out another TSB concerning another issue with the Ultra LT fifth wheel. As explained in the ODI document, “the operating lever in the fifth wheel could become bent 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.” Trailers could disconnect from the tractor as a result.
Fontaine discontinued production of the Ultra LT fifth wheel shortly thereafter.
In January 2014, a trailer disconnected from a 2012 International ProStar using the Ultra LT fifth wheel, striking two vehicles and killing both drivers.