With the continuing technological advancements made on today’s farming equipment to increase efficiency and productivity, newer combines and tractors have become digitized control centers. Items like sensors, touchscreens, and webs of wiring have created the need for access to diagnostic tools and replacement components. But finding out what the fix is can be a challenge.
Farmers want to fix their own equipment, which has led to over 30 states proposing right-to-repair legislation over the last several years, including North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. One of the latest pieces of legislation in the region, Montana SB273, was “killed” on the Senate floor, but the fact that it got that far was a “wake-up call,” says Brad Griffin, managing director for the Montana Equipment Dealers Association.
“It became apparent that there is a large disconnect between the manufacturers, the dealers, and our customers,” Griffin said. “The argument that resonated the most with the senators was that this bill was unnecessary. Anybody can already get the diagnostic tools they need to fix their equipment through the dealership, but the customers were not aware that this service is available, so we are taking this as a wake-up call to boost the awareness of our customers.
“Customers can purchase software, and if they have the know-how and the tools to actually work on the equipment themselves, this software will tell them what the error code means, they can get the owner’s manual, schematics, etc. This bill was unnecessary because the product is already out there,” he added.
Agricultural machinery today is sophisticated, which means improper modifications on a modern machine can potentially lead to a safety issue.
One safety issue manufacturers and dealers see today is something called “chirping” – where a customer has increased the horsepower of an engine, often far beyond the manufacturer’s specs, which can result in premature wear of the machine. They also see a lot of units that have had their emissions systems “defeated” or overridden. Defeated machines do not meet federal emissions standards.
Manufacturers and dealers also say they have no way of recognizing that the machine was ever tampered with or modified because the software was set back to manufacturer’s specs prior to being traded in. Or, if it hasn’t been reset, they have no way of knowing what was changed – another safety concern.
Griffin says he and his organization fully supports their customers having the ability to repair their own equipment, but they do not support unauthorized and unsafe modifications due to safety and liability concerns, among other things.
“We agree with (farmers) that they should be able to fix their own equipment. If you own a John Deere tractor or combine, you can pay for a software subscription that will diagnose the problem,” he said. “Assuming you have the know-how of how to break down the equipment, find the sensor or whatever needs to be replaced, you can do it.”
Griffin believes that manufacturers and dealers need to do a better job of making their customers aware of what services are available to them, and he believes they’ll start to do so.
“I think you’ll start seeing awareness campaigns across the country,” he said. “This issue has a powerful emotional appeal. If you’re a mechanic and you have the know-how, you should be able to fix your equipment. Quite honestly, during the peak of harvest and planting, the fleet of technicians that our dealers employ are slammed, so if they can cut down on trips to the farm to clear up simple things like an error code or something that shows up, that’s good for them too. It’s quite often a simple fix. So it’s up to us to better communicate the availability of products to our customers.”