Blog

Just let us fix our tractor!

By Emily Scarr
State Director

We support HB799, Right to Repair, or as we call it, the “Just Let us Fix our own Tractor Act.”  Maryland Farmers invest a lot in their equipment, but companies use their power in the marketplace to make it harder or more expensive to repair, or even designed to fail.

Why Right to Repair for Farm Equipment?

Maryland farmers deserve protection from price gouging and consumer ripoffs.

Farm Equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and our farmers need to know it will work at critical times during their season. Anything that limits their access to repair their own stuff, or locks them into a monopoly on who CAN repair it is bad for our local farms, our economy, and our food supply.

We need our farmers to be resilient and not dependent on a monopoly of companies to ensure their equipment works. What would we do in a national crisis if they didn’t have these tools?

It might seem like the information farmers are asking for is complicated, and the industry will claim it is, but even where electronic equipment is complex, repair is not. Manufacturers have built their repair tools, parts, and diagnostics to be used by minimally trained technicians in order to control labor costs. These same parts, tools, and diagnostics can be used with equal outcomes by any trained technician or farmer. There are stories of some farmers who have turned to “hacking” to get access to these tools or gotten pirated diagnostic tools. 

Video: Tractor Hacking 

Manufacturers essentially have a monopoly on repairs. When only the manufacturer or their ‘authorized technician’ can fix something, they can charge whatever they want or they can say “it can’t be fixed” and push you into buying a new product or component. They do both.

Farm equipment, like many things these days, are increasingly tech dependent, and powered by computers. In order to repair it, you need some basic things: Spare parts, repair documentation (like the schematics and manuals), diagnostic software and any special tools. But when the companies that make farm equipment block access to all of those essential things, repair becomes difficult -- and in many cases only the manufacturer or their “authorized” repair technicians can do the repairs. 

This bill will upset manufacturers and their current monopoly on repairs. That’s the point. Manufacturers that currently prevent competition for repair services will be forced to compete. Some may lose business opportunities to competitors. This is the healthy outcome that spurs innovation, quality of service, and competitive pricing. 

How Right to Repair Works 

Right to Repair requires manufactures to make the diagnostic tools, manuals, replacement parts and tools available to the user or a third party available at a fair price. These are the critical things independent repair shops and consumers need to fix broken things. 

The statute is adapted from the “Right To Repair” agreement for cars -- so we know the structure of the law works. ​The automotive industry agreed to these terms in 2014 after Massachusetts passed a law similar to what you are considering today. There have been no ill-effects from the application of this law, and consumers have the option of taking their car to whichever mechanic they choose. 

If it works for cars and it should easily work for farm equipment. We respectfully request a favorable report.

FAQ 

Will this give everyone access to the source code of their electronics?
No, this gives access to diagnostic tools and embedded software, NOT source code. All we are asking for is the tools the dealerships and authorized technicians use to fix equipment.

This is big, heavy machinery, is this dangerous?
Enabling independent technicians and farmers to have access to the tools they need will make repair MORE not less safe.

Will this let farmers skirt EPA emissions rules?
The only way to skirt EPA emissions rules is by illegally installing black market software, which this policy does not make easier to do. All we are asking for is the tools the dealerships use to fix equipment --- and unless there is a tool in there to dodge emissions standards, this argument doesn't make sense.  

What will this mean for Dealerships?
Dealerships sell equipment in a competitive market and while they make money, they also benefit extensively from monopoly pricing on repairs. Crain’s Chicago Business magazine reported in May that repair yield “profit margins up to five times better than new-equipment sales”

The auto repair industry’s experience with Auto Right to Repair since 2012 proves the fear that competition in repair will cause dealership closures is unwarranted. The presence of competition for repair has made dealerships more attentive to their customers, and remain dominant in all late-model repair services.

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