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Farmers Right to Repair: A Better Way to Fix Equipment

Off-highway diagnostics are very complicated. The industry isn’t regulated by the government which has caused an ongoing uproar from grassroots campaigns targeting large companies like John Deere and CAT. 

What is ‘Right To Repair’ About?

Here’s a 1,000-foot view of the issue: a farmer’s equipment has an electronic related fault code, which makes the machine inoperable. Because repair information & software is not available unless you are a dealer, the equipment owner has no choice but to call the Original Engine Manufacturer (OEM) out, and then wait extended periods of time for expensive repairs. This creates unnecessary downtime, stalled production, and exorbitant costs.

Farmers, and now construction companies, are pushing for state and local legislation. These “Right to Repair” bills would require manufacturers to make digital tools and repair information available to fix equipment.

We understand both sides. What it really boils down to is:

  • Intellectual Property Rights
  • Potential Safety Hazards/Complicated Repairs
  • Money

Who REALLY Owns Your Equipment?

The lack of regulation has created a barrier, keeping heavy equipment owners from repairing their machines. Is it fair to pay half a million dollars for a machine only to be held hostage by dealers when there’s a fault code?

Heavy equipment owners are firm in the belief that they purchased the right to repair information when they bought their machine – so they ought to be able to manage certain repairs themselves.

On the other hand, manufacturers stand by the claim that repair information for their software is “intellectual property” that belongs to them. Customers who shell out big bucks for a piece of farming equipment don’t own the software, but rather an “implied license” to operate the machine. Manufacturers don’t want customers making changes that lead to further consequences on the programming side of things.

Are Software Repairs Too Complicated/Unsafe for Independent Repair Shops?

Software creates a more efficient machine, with more bells and whistles to help a farmer get the job done – until the machine has a fault code. Then equipment owners could be waiting days or weeks for expensive OEM repairs that cost them precious harvesting time.

It all goes back to software. It controls every element of these machines, from the steering to the GPS. When things go south with one of these components, farmers can’t get far without needing OEM repair information or the dealer’s software to perform a command.

Typically, the manufacturer concerns are safety, programming abilities such as horsepower changes and emission controls. About half of fault codes triggered are related to emission control systems which make the machine inoperable. Dealers argue that providing their ‘intellectual property’ to make these repairs would allow customers to disable emission control systems. They worry that manufacturers could be sued if independent repair shops override safety protocols or tampers with an emission control. It is illegal to modify the components on any vehicle’s emission system, you can read more about those dangers here.

Will owners simply continuously clear the derates and try to continue working while polluting the atmosphere?  We think not as they still have a problem to fix. Right to Repair legislation could lead to more informed mechanics that could quickly and accurately resolve the underlying causes of the fault codes, which would remove the need for equipment owners to delete or tamper with their emission system.

From a safety and programming point, someone who doesn’t know what they are doing could easily make the wrong adjustments and cause problems leading to significant consequences. All parts of these machines work in unison – so when you tinker with one element it may have negative effects on another, seemingly unrelated, part of the machine. But sometimes people just want to make harmless routine repairs or hydraulic adjustments due to an implement change.

The Elephant in the Room: Money

There is no denying that todays machines are more efficient than in years past, but increased productivity comes at a price. Supporters of the “Right To Repair” legislation argue that the lack of access to repair information has created a monopoly for manufacturers. Without repair information or the ability to perform diagnostics many non-OEM technicians have been cut out of the competition.

Research firm IBISWorld estimates repair spending in the U.S. last year at $39.1 billion for heavy machinery. So it’s no wonder that companies like John Deere and CAT are putting up a heck of a fight to protect this cash cow. Repairs are an essential part of their business, its substantially more profitable than sales of new equipment.

Some manufacturers do offer watered down versions of their diagnostic tools to customers, but most hold it tightly and don’t offer even a customer version to the public.

Do Farmers Have Aftermarket Options for Repairs?

What people fighting right to repair don’t realize is there are finally options out there that allow them to work on their equipment. Quality aftermarket options exist now.

We aren’t talking about Chinese knockoff tools, or pirated software. Those tools are a band-aid at best. We are talking about a dealer-level tool that performs diagnostics on a wide range of makes and models – the Diesel Laptops Off-Highway Diagnostic Kit. There are several versions of this Diagnostic Kit that allows the tool to be geared towards your needs, take a look below: 

The biggest difference between OEM software and this aftermarket tool is the inability to program. For most people that isn’t an issue. Afterall, how often are you really reprogramming equipment? Most often when we hear customers asking about reprogramming something, they just want to calibrate a component after replacement such as a (VGT) variable geometry turbo or even simpler things such as resetting differential pressures and coding DPF’s and injectors. This tool handles those types of actions as well as diagnostic work involving calibrations, clearing derates and running tests to determine a problem. 

At the end of the day Right to Repair with OEM’s is going to take years to sort out, but there are other ways for you to repair your equipment without OEM’s software. 

Do Aftermarket Tools Get The Job Done?

If you could purchase OEM software how much would you spend for multiple manufacturers?  Probably over 20k by the time you buy just hardware - not to mention annual software renewal costs.

When most people hear aftermarket diagnostics and assume it is a clumsy tool that can only read codes. Today’s machines are much more complex and require several types of calibrations, special resets for aftertreatment systems and tons more.  The Diesel Laptops Diagnostic kit has capabilities ranging from calibrating valves, sensors and joysticks in machine control modules to transmission calibrations, hitch calibrations, injector trim codes and even clearing derates on the engine.  

These machines are complicated, and each manufacturer has its own specialized cabling.  They hide their data links in locations you would never imagine, see below. With the Diesel Laptops Diagnostic Kit farmers and mechanics finally have the tools, training and support they need to make common repairs.

Heavy Equipment Diagnostic Connection

Diesel Laptops is filling the heavy equipment repair gap by creating programs such as DTC Solutions Off-Highway and Knowledge Base. These programs consist of things such as step by step information down to hydraulic, wiring schematics and component locators. 

Heavy Equipment Wiring Diagram

Off-highway diagnostics are a complicated subject.  At the end of the day just remember options exist and you are not just limited to a dealer to repair your machines.  Check out your options here.

Previous article The Best In Off-highway Repair Info Just Got Better: DTC OHW Version 1.8.0

Angaeli Lall-Butcher

Angaeli covers all things Off-Highway as a part of the marketing team at Diesel Laptops, from construction and agriculture machinery to heavy equipment diagnostics.

My role has brought me to The National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green OH, had me trekking through farms in Gilbert, SC and even sent me to a construction theme park in NJ. I spread the word about new ways that Diesel Laptops serves the Off-Highway community, and work with diesel techs to help them discover heavy equipment repair options.

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