SAF-Holland’s new coupling assistant aims to eliminate dropped trailers

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – SAF-Holland is looking to put an end to the costly problem of dropped trailers. The company introduced today for its Holland FW35-series fifth wheels a new ELI-te Fifth Wheel Coupling Assistant.

ELI stands for electronic lock indicator, and is a much improved version of the system offered today, which officials acknowledged was an idea ahead of its time that didn’t enjoy widespread adoption. The previous ELI system featured an in-dash light that indicated whether or not the trailer was properly coupled.

Four bright LEDs light up the lock jaw area of the fifth wheel for an easier inspection.
Four bright LEDs light up the lock jaw area of the fifth wheel for an easier inspection.

The new system, ELI-te helps driver inspections of the fifth wheel by shining four bright LED lights directly on the kingpin and lock jaws of the assembly so drivers no longer require a flashlight to ensure the trailer has been securely coupled. If the kingpin is not properly locked into place, a blinking red light on both sides of the fifth wheel will alert drivers.

“We were looking at, how can we as Holland engineering assist drivers with inspections to ensure the FW35 is coupled properly?” said SAF-Holland’s Bryan Redeker. “The amount of light under a fifth wheel is inconsistent. If you can’t really see the locks you’re not going to be confident it’s coupled properly. Even if you’re using a flashlight, it can still be difficult to see in there and one dropped trailer is too many.”

Of course, adding electronics to a component that’s as abused and grimy as your typical fifth wheel wasn’t easy. Redeker said the company went to great lengths to ensure the system will stand up to the rigors of everyday use.

“The circuitry and components are not impacted by grease,” he said.

The system derives its 12-volt power from the tractor via a single cable housed in a one-piece wiring harness.

“It’s the only connection required,” said Redeker. “You don’t have to run the system into the dash. It’s a one-connection hookup.”

Kingpin and lock sensors detect that the fifth wheel jaws have locked around the kingpin and then send a signal to the ECM, which is housed inside a durable steel enclosure and mounted directly to the outside of the fifth wheel. The driver is still required to inspect the connection to ensure the trailer is properly coupled, but it’s now much easier thanks to the four high-intensity LED lights that shine directly onto kingpin and locking mechanism. Redeker said the LEDs are four times brighter than a typical flashlight.

Circuitry was designed to withstand abuse.
Circuitry was designed to withstand abuse.

The two high-intensity red LED warning lights are easily seen from a distance if the trailer is not coupled securely.

“It alerts the driver of an issue before it becomes a costly problem,” Redeker said. The lights are shatterproof so they can withstand impact with hooks or debris.

“The lights make it easy for drivers to positively confirm that they have coupled correctly, and warn

them if they have not. It’s a new generation of safety,” said Mark Molitor, vice-president of

engineering, Americas. “It’s an engineered, all-in-one system that will be spec’d by on-highway

fleets that are looking to empower drivers to accomplish correct coupling consistently.”

Redeker said SAF-Holland has piloted the coupling assistant with fleets and began production earlier this month. It is also available for dolly applications. A retrofit kit is also in the works. The system is backed by a two-year warranty.

Flashing red lights on both sides of the fifth wheel warn of an insecure connection.
Flashing red lights on both sides of the fifth wheel warn of an insecure connection.

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • ELI will make drivers lazy & not look relying on red lights that may be malfunctioning OR lights could malfunction ON when pin is locked causing unnecessary delays aND cost. Also a AA Maglite is cheaper and easier to confirm pin lock.

    • This is a great idea. There is a lot of stupid out there in the world today, hopefully this will help eliminate some of that.