Tim Brannon, owner/operator of B&G Equipment shares his perspective from inside the trenches.
Comedian Ron White had a famous line about being arrested when the police found him drunk in public. The officer stated, “Sir, you have the right to remain silent.” Ron said, “My problem was I knew I had the right to remain silent, but I didn’t have the ability!”
Recently, there was a court ruling about ‘Right to Repair’ or R2R as it applies to farm equipment. The new court ruling gives owners the ‘right’ to repair, but will they have the ‘ability’ and at what cost? To think that some of the high-tech customers have not already dabbled in the software of the farm equipment that uses such, would be very naïve. Now the examples I might list are from a ‘friend’ as we have no such knowledge of customers ‘repairing’ said equipment.
(This quote will be saved for my court testimony.) First, let me vent. What we have today is automotive technology that has found its way into the farm equipment industry. What our customers want, for the most part, is the serviceability of the performing system. Instead of a micro switch controlling a module that is interfaced via CAN bus (CAN bus should be outlawed on combines and tractors or wherever mice or rats or farmers can be found), there should be a fused wire from a robust switch that when activated, does something and if it does not, a simple $5 test light can diagnose the problem.
For those who wish Jetsonian technology, then make that an add-on system that will not force a ‘limp home’ derating of the entire unit (that runs on Spacley Sprockets or Cogswell Cogs) when a mouse chews a wire for breakfast. Instead, what we have today is CAN bus laden, electrically charged control systems integrated with the ‘Electronic Control Module’ controlling everything from the engine to the transmission to the hydraulics, bathroom breaks and everything in-between. THUS, our customers lost the ability to repair the equipment they purchased due to its proprietary software.
One side of our brain says if a farmer purchases a half million-dollar machine, he should have the right to try to repair it, period. Why should us dealers have all the fun? The other lobe is concerned about the customer going in and doing permanent damage that they then expect us to fix. Also, a farmer’s grandson or daughter could hack into the software and discover some trade ‘secret,’ or they could take that Fendt tractor that is limited to 35 mph and make it an Amish Dream prime mover that will now get them a speeding ticket in the 55 mph speed zone.
Many customers have trained techs on the payroll who were hired out of a dealership and are fully capable of diagnostics and repairs. Why should owners be forced to pay hundreds per hour to do what the guy on the farm payroll can do for a fraction of this?
The other side is dealers are forced to spend big bucks training techs and paying license fees to be able to service what they sell. We could go on, but one sees why this debate has dragged on for so long.
I have written previously about the needless emission controls on tractors. Emission systems are a major portion of repairs. It would make more sense to require emission controls on my gas stove, gas water heater or gas clothes drier (some government do-gooder is probably proposing this right now), but we have them and we all have to deal with it. We have heard of tractors with the DEF deleted, Regen burn-off systems bypassed and horsepower increased via programing. We are libertarian enough to say let the ‘chips’ fall where they may (that was a good pun even if I say so myself). The automotive field has worked under this requirement as anyone who has bought a OBD2 scanner from Harbor Freight can attest.
Finally, the industry has brought all this on itself. Our field (this word has been outlawed as racist – I am not a racist) is so small, selling to a limited population, that the ones who dictate to the engineers did not see this coming. People who bought tractors decades ago were good ole boys and never caused much trouble. Today, with prices at all-time highs and an ever-increasing population of tractor owners that are high tech and now own this high tech — this issue was inevitable.
Bottom line, hindsight is 20/20. The future sight will be very interesting with lots of stories, some with horror preceding them. Be ready for everything from phone calls wanting to borrow your computer to asking how much it would cost to get set up to diagnose issues, to rent or purchase of special tools and questions we can’t even imagine. The only thing certain about R2R is change is coming. Our job is to do the research, educate ourselves and be prepared or maybe even proactive and figure how to oblige these customers and find a profitability niche in the process.
I’ll have more as the story unfolds. ’til next time, wishing you miles of smiles and regulations.