Will John Deere Finally Get Their DMCA Comeuppance?

When it comes to activism, there are many different grades of activist aside from the few who you may encounter quietly and effectively working for change in their field. There are the self-proclaimed activists who sit in their armchairs and froth online about whatever their Cause is, but ultimately aside from making a lot of noise are pretty ineffectual. Then there are the Rebels With A Cause, involved in every radical movement of the moment and always out on the streets about something or other, but often doing those causes more harm than good. Activists can be hard work, at times.

If you are within whatever Establishment that has aroused the collective ire it is not the screamers and banner-wavers that should worry you, instead it is the people who are normally quiet. When people who spend their lives getting things done rather than complaining turn round en masse and rebel, it’s time to sit up and take notice. If people like the farmers or the squaddies are on the streets, the probability of your ending up on the wrong side of history has just increased exponentially and maybe it’s time to have a little think about where you’re going with all this.

The video below the break follows a group of Nebraska farmers fighting for the right to maintain their farm machinery, in particular the products of John Deere. Since all functions of a modern Deere are tied into the machine’s software, the manufacturer has used the DMCA to lock all maintenance into their dealer network. As one farmer points out, to load his combine harvester on a truck and take it on a 100-mile round trip to the dealer costs him $1000 every time a minor fault appears, and he and other farmers simply can’t afford that kind of loss. We’re taken to the Nebraska State Legislature and shown the progress of a bill that will enshrine the right to repair in Nebraskan law, and along the way we see the attempts by lobbyists to derail it.

We normally write Hackaday stories in the third person, but it’s worth saying that this is being written from a small farming community in Southern England, and that there is a green and yellow tractor parked outside somewhere. Thus it’s from first-hand experience that you can be told that Deere is in danger of becoming a damaged brand among its staunchest supporters. They still make damn fine tractors, but who wants to be caught with brief weather window to get on the land, and a machine that’s bricked itself? It’s hardly as though Deere are the only manufacturer of agricultural machinery after all.

This video is quite important, because it is a step towards the wider story becoming more than just a concern to a few farmers, hardware hackers, and right-to-repair enthusiasts. The last word should go to one of the farmers featured, when he points out that all his older tractors are just as capable of going out and doing the same day’s work without the benefit of all the computerized technology on their modern siblings.

We’ve brought you the Deere story before, through several plot twists and turns. We’d honestly prefer that this wasn’t happening, then we could bring you entertaining articles about tractor technology instead.

Thanks [Sophi] for the tip.

114 thoughts on “Will John Deere Finally Get Their DMCA Comeuppance?

    1. But are there other manufacturers who can meet emission standards with out computerized control of the engine? Ag. operators probably would less fuel consumption no matter how it’s achieved. In many places John Deere may be the only option, without making a 50-100 mile round trip, to mention many Ag. families are married to JD green

      1. Why would John Deere be the only option? There’s plenty of other brands out there. You have to understand that these minor repair causing major downtime and a lot of extra costs are part of the equation. It’s hard to imagine other manufacturers don’t easily edge out such a disadvantage.

        Voting with your wallet is still the most effective by far. Saying you don’t like it but still buying the stuff doesn’t work. “Being married to John Deere” is just setting yourself up for a beating you’ll just have to take.

        1. A factor often considered for farm equipment is support. Equipment breaks down, it is a fact that will never change. If a farmer has a Deere dealership that is 15 miles away and the nearest competitor is 60 miles away that will weigh heavily on their purchase decision. Deere has a lot of operating income and brand presence that has allowed them to keep a lot of dealerships open and cover a lot of territory. The smaller manufacturers don’t have that luxury.

          1. The farmer quoted in the article says it’s expensive for him to trailer up his equipment every time and drive it a 100 miles to the nearest dealership. According to that story, support is expensive and inconvenient. Apparently, the TCO doesn’t pan out.

            I can imagine it also being a case of tradition and maybe some chauvinism. Farmers who’ve had always had John Deere in their sheds might be inclined to pick that over any competitor, especially if the competition is foreign. If he “simply can’t afford that kind of loss”, John Deere doesn’t sound like the right choice for him on account of being too expensive. If other brands are too expensive to run too, then being a farmer simply isn’t viable for him.

            Mind you, I’m all for the right to repair your own equipment. However, buying into something voluntarily and then complaining it’s not working for you, rather than drawing conclusions and adapting, seems an odd thing to do. Let John Deere suffer the consequences for their choices. As always, money talks.

          2. @Nay: “…buying into something voluntarily and then complaining it’s not working for you…”

            In a perfect world, I’d agree with you. But when you need a tool, and there are only a few suppliers, one of whom may be preferable for whatever reasons (cost, location, availability, features, etc), and that supplier attempts to take advantage of you, it should be your right to minimize that advantage.

            I know *I* don’t take my Toyota to the dealership every time it needs work. But what if every part had an RFID tag, and the Toyota ECU refused to work with aftermarket (or used, genuine Toyota) parts? That’s not fair. DMCA was an industry grab for control over consumer rights, and it’s about time it got slapped down a bit.

          3. Brands and brand loyalty has a reason – it costs money to switch suppliers, because you need to re-tool and re-train, and research your options. You might get burned, and that’s a risk you have to consider. For example, if you buy a new tractor from someone else, you don’t already have a spare headlight bulb for it, you don’t know where to take it when it breaks down, you don’t know the parts prices and availability so you can’t shop around until you spend time and gasoline going around looking for it, etc. so you have to put a lot more money down to make the transition – only to find out that you picked the wrong option.

            John Deere is making use of that sort of threshold effect, where they know they can abuse their customers up to a point. Some customers will leave, but others will stay, and it’s a simple calculation of whether the leavers are worth more than the stayers.

        2. That’s why Apple and AT&T flew in to express their ‘concern’ over the repair bill. This isn’t farmers making bad choices – this is industry taking unfair advantage of customers to force them to buy new equipment because they can refuse to repair it or force repairs to be so costly for their own profit that it doesn’t make economic sense.

          Apple doesn’t want you getting your laptop or phone repaired by anyone except for Apple. They don’t want it because they don’t want you to modify it to suit your purpose. They don’t make money on repairs, they make money when you buy a new one. So they continue to crank out new things and even if you don’t need them, any problems of a serious nature eventually end with the conversation that you just need to buy a newer model. Sony has sued so many people who adapted their technology to their own needs. It isn’t what they planned, so it isn’t right when it’s in your home working for you, the way you need it to. So if every company is doing it and hiding behind DMCA to get away with it, where does your wallet go to get a product you actually own, can modify to meet YOUR needs, and when it breaks that you can repair for a reasonable price and keep in service well beyond when that company wants you to buy it again new? This isn’t a tractor issue – it’s a control issue and an ownership issue. If you think this won’t hit dishwashers, refrigerators, televisions, toasters, and anything (well, everything now) with a microcontroller in it, you need to look around.

          The answer is you can’t. So long as laws like DMCA are protecting large corporations, there will be no consumer protection or rights for the products we buy. I agree completely that when you buy something you actually own it. You’re not leasing the right to use it. We need to stamp out this kind of stupid fueled purely by corporate greed. That’s a greater subset of this problem, though. This specific instance is just about being able to maintain the product you already own. That should simply be a right and I’m glad that states are starting to realize this and do something about it.

          John Deere has a strong brand. The farmers of America don’t hate the tools or the company – they work. They hate the policy that is driving up costs and inconvenience unnecessarily. Because they’re as large and ubiquitous as they are, there are many benefits to purchasing John Deere equipment. Not the least of which it is high quality equipment that works as promised. Companies need to do what they do best – make good stuff people want. The market forces that are touted so much whenever regulation discussion comes up will keep farmers buying their stuff. Trying to wring every dollar out of a farmer who already bought your equipment just to keep it working and producing food is just wrong. That’s the real issue here.

          1. Think the public at large will understand why their food bills bigger? The “John Deere” tax certainly will not appear as a line item any more than Monsanto.

          2. If things can’t be fixed easily when small problems arise, costing the farmer time and money, the tools don’t work. A drill that regularly isn’t available when I need it isn’t a good tool. The time is ripe for a competitor to step in and offer a better bang for buck.

            Of course, it’s possible all manufacturers start doing this, which is why a repair bill is still a good idea.

          3. >” I agree completely that when you buy something you actually own it. You’re not leasing the right to use it. ”

            There’s a more fundamental problem regarding that, regarding the concept of “intellectual property”, where you literally -can’t- own what you just bought because the ownership is legally bound to the originator or owner of the copyright. This is so the owner of the copyright can keep on demading more and more money for the same thing, even though the are not adding any more value.

            As long as we maintain this legal fiction, laws like the DMCA are here to stay.

            The problem is to get people to understand that the value of any intellectual work is in the creation of it, not in restricting its availability: anyone who creates artifical scarcity on intellectual property is hurting its value.

            Demanding money for causing this inconvenience is like someone who pulls a rope across a public road and starts demanding money to lower it, car by car. This makes the road less useful, and the fellow with the rope a nuisance and a cheat for trying to earn money for nothing. In this way, the principle behind copyright is fundamentally immoral.

        3. You are arguing from ignorance, and that’s okay. Just recognize that’s what it is.
          “voting with your wallet” has costs associated with it which may not be realized in the price tag of the equipment, including but not limited to:
          * proximity of dealership
          * quality of product
          * availability of repair parts
          * availability of service technicians (n.b. we do not mean dealership service departments, here – that is the entire point of the proposal)

          Further, you’re making the argument that an artificially-imposed software-based service lock held in place by litigation of dubious legality (see: “chilling effects”) is “a beating you’ll just have to take.”

          This may be the wrong website to try and support such a stance.

          Just sayin’.

          1. The big thing you’re missing in switching supplier is the cost of replacing not just the tractor but likely the accessories- certainly that’s the case with cameras etc.

      2. The reason behind so many people having deere is because from the 30 and 40 series tractors of the 70s up until case introduced the mx series tractors in the early 2000’s, there was no real competition in terms of r&d and overall quality. Now, that gap has all but closed up. As a guy who works on most makes that are available in the US, and a Nebraskan, I still bleed green cuz from the 8000 series on back they are easier to work on than most, and parts are ALWAYS available. Btw Nebraskan’s have always stood up for holding tractor manufacturers to high standards and for what’s right. Every model sold in the US and 108 other countries has to pass the Nebraska Test.

    1. to the best of my knowledge it was happening with cars and then the obd standard was forced on car manufacturers. you still have to buy specialist gear to do tricky diagnostics and use all sorts of dodgy tricks to deal with security stuff, but the basics can be done with a basiccheap code reader thanks to the obd standard. hopefully that doesn’t go away.

      i guess its a supply and demand thing, id speculate there are more cars and more auto mechanics around than tractors and farmers, so its worth the tine of companies like snap-on autel, bosh, delphi, to reverse engineer various diagnostic functions

      1. The difference is that there is no standard like that in farm equipment. John Deere designed and controls all forms of communication with the computers in their equipment. And they do not intend to make that available to anyone that doesn’t work for them.

        It may be difficult to get anything more than a basic cheap code reader for a car, but at least it’s not impossible without breaking the law.

        1. There was no standard in cars until it was forced on the car manufacturers. America was a leader to the world in that.

          America also lead the right to technical information and the car manufacturers were seriously pissed about it, when Australia tried to implement it Mercedes were banned from importing there because of their refusal but they backed down eventually.

          I am not really sure it is a problem because what you buy is still up to the customer. What is important is education for people before they buy so that they don’t discover all this the first time a machine breaks. Thankfully the Internet solves that problem and anyone that just buys without looking into it deserves all they get I suppose. These problems are worse with Microsoft and Apple because they are much closer to a monopoly with much less choice generally.

          1. “Standard”, there’s 5 different protocols still in use, 3 of which are US car makers, plus the 4th now needs to be in all US cars since 2008. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On-board_diagnostics#OBD-II_signal_protocols

            Not to mention, that ODB is pretty shitty thing anyway. It’s mostly emission crap in there. Everything else is “extended” stuff, that needs information from the manufacturer to decrypt, unless someone’s done it for you and it can change at any moment.

            Not to mention all the TV and radio stuff that is never good enough for USA. USA has the have their own standard (and as OBD shows, 3 standards), no matter what.

            Now i’m not saying that Europe or Asia are that much better, mainly just saying that there’s not much reason to be proud of any of this “standard” stuff, because it sucks so bad no matter where you look at it. Any standard is a standard only in a limited group.

          2. It really isn’t necessarily up to a customer what they buy, when it comes to farm equipment. If they’re lucky, they will have two or more dealerships nearby, if they live near a town big enough to have them, but that’s not true for everyone. A farmer might have a John Deere dealership 15 miles away, and a Case IH dealership 60 miles away, and another brand 100 miles away…

            When you have a machine that gets yearly preventative maintenance, and has a top speed of 18 MPH, then the above scenario is a one dealer choice. A farmer can’t afford, nor can waste time going to the dealerships 60 and 100 miles away. Proximity FORCES the choice for them.

            That’s assuming they even have internet to do research at all. Much of rural America still does NOT have broadband access. DSL only reaches a short distance past the edge of town, and the other options are wireless terrestrial or satellite services. Cable and fiber do not exist at all anywhere in the rural areas. Getting over 1-10 Mbps just off the edge of town is a struggle, and passed just a few miles, you’re looking at dial-up speeds. 56.6 Kbps, baby! Try doing your “internet research” on that.

          3. @richfiles

            Well since HaD and others is turning everything into a video, one can see why you all need so much speed. But text still works fine over dial-up and yes, cellular connections.*

            *The irony of THIS forum complaining about speed shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Most of you work on every kind of connection imaginable, and if it doesn’t exist, you create it. You’re makers, not sheep.

          4. yah it’s not fullyb standard as you need a tool that can perform bi directional to do things like get the ECM to learn a new crank sensor or idle speed control on GM vehicles.
            The ECM is actually smart enough to do this on it’s own and does as all the tool does as send a few bytes to it to select that mode.
            They could have made this function something embedded in the information centre.
            Though they do allow third parties to make said tools but even the official third party tools are very expensive so I suspect they’re charging royalties so many people op for a Chinese clone.
            Volkswagen group has their own standard as well.

      2. This is not exclusively true. While yes emission based repairs are usually clearable by generic OBD functions, things such as throttle bodies, fuel injectors, spark, and engine sensors are often hidden behind manufacturer gateways and cannot be accessed without appropriate software the average “weekend oil change” home mechanic wouldn’t purchase as it’s not cost effective (pay $900 for software + $100 for part or have a shop do the whole repair for $300). Often it’s as simple as a code tripping once, and the computer will refuse to read that component/sensor/etc without the code being cleared first, even if a new part is installed.

        Not to mention more complex systems such as brakes, air bags, and electronics are hidden as well.

        I see the point from the manufacturer. Do you want joe mechanic to attempt to fix his own brakes and end up in an accident? Should he be able to replace his own airbags after an accident? If he replaces a fuel component incorrectly and wears the engine prematurely he can claim it under warranty.

        I see both sides, but of course I’m on the side of the consumer. There’s little that prevents you from building your own unsafe vehicle and driving it down public roads so it should be allowed for you to turn your purchased vehicle into a death trap too at your own digression.

  1. I’m a tractor mechanic as well as a Linux and Unix system administrator. Personally, I prefer my 1947 model A John Deere because it will outlast the operator you put on it. With that said, I work for a farm that has newer equipment which has proven to be less reliable.
    When you couple that with the fact the dealership doesn’t really know anything, you have a problem. I ended up hooking an oscilloscope to one of our tractors, which allowed me to find a problem the dealership just kept throwing $2000 injection pumps at. Why should dumb farmer me be able to outperform a dealership trained technician? Why can’t the dealership technicians understand their own product? This is part of a bigger problem, which is manufacturers forgetting how technology works.

    1. The issue with automobiles is similar. The dealer doesn’t seem to do much except rely on the manufacturer for diagnostics and code and repair procedures and then when the customer reaches out to the automobile manufacturer for support, they tell you to talk to the dealer. Who then has to reach out to the manufacturer and then bill you for the time. At least ample documentation exists (at least for vehicles more than a few years old) and third party service techs are also available. Sometimes it’s utterly absurd how limited the dealers are with repairs, especially given that the actual manufacturer doesn’t make many, many of the parts in modern vehicles but farms that out to others as well.

      Most manufacturers would prefer that you just buy a new product. For some things like vehicles, that’s not exactly easy for everybody to do. Though if we start obsoleting every “manual” car out there times hundreds of millions or billions or more, that might push people towards needing new cars because old cars cannot physically even drive themselves.

      Oh the joys of only partially self driving cars muddying things up even further. Do we really want to have cars that only sometimes self drive themselves but fail catastrophically in other times also being an option?

      It’s somewhat similar in the sense that your 1947 Model A is a well made machine but it fundamentally does lack many of the improvements that more modern units have. Like being able to have a single operator operate a fleet of “drone” harvesting units for example. So it’s not quite as cut and dry as older equipment is universally better in every case, even if they are fundamentally less “complicated”.

      That said, screw John Deere for their approach and walled garden philosophy regarding repairs. My impression of them has dropped considerably due to how they are treating their own customers.

      1. I suspect this is why in the latest crop of vehicles we’re seeing small turbo engines often as small as 1.4l in crossover vehicle where even a 3.0l V6 is marginal.
        The small engine will wear out sooner the user will put 87 in it yes the ECM can compensate but only after detonation has occurred and hopefully the pistons won’t fail until the warranty is out so an expensive repair or they’ll just buy a new one.

        1. Nope. No glow plugs. I have not seen a glow plug in a tractor in a long time. And even if you have an engine with a glow plug, that is just to get it started. Once a diesel is going it firing on compression alone. My big tractor has an intake heater you switch on for a few minutes before you try and start it in the winter, but once it is going there are no electrics involved in keeping it going. To stop it the kill lever on the injection pump is driven by an aircraft cable that goes to a pull out knob on the dash.

  2. It’s funny that companies like Ford and GM now actually claim to be “open” on the bus/software. When I heard that line of BS a while ago in a security webinar, I had to laugh. (transmission diagnostics anyone?) “That’s our data”

  3. This story has been around a while – what I don’t get is why people are still buying from this manufacturer – is there any sort of boycott campaign Are all the other makerss doing the same thing, or are their products so much more inferior or more costly that people buy the Deere stuff? Surely there’s a market opportunity for a competitor to sell on the basis that they guarantee that users will be able to repair themselves?
    And why can’t Deere offer a mobile repair service? For a company selling large kit that people depend on in a time-sensitive business, not offering an appropriate on-site service facility is pretty poor business if nothing else.

    1. While a service truck surely would be less expensive, than transporting to equipment to the dealership.its still going to be expensive. Outfitting a 6×6 twin screw truck large enough to handle large hoists is expensive to outfit. Yes that’s the sort of truck needed to get to machine brokendown in a large field located on the high Plains. Unless the service tech is paid the same amount they can earn in the shop for windshield time, good service tech acting in their best interests will go looking for employment elsewhere even it is in another business field. Given the distances involve over night stays are often an incurred expense. Although they are lower paid staff a runners will be needed take need parts to the job site. Anyway a mobile service tech doesn’t address the underlying problem, and actually supports it.

    2. Depends on where you are. I lived in a Massey-Ferguson and New Holland area. You spend your life with a brand, you seek it out again. Not enough market (at least where I was) for all manufacturers to thrive in each region.

      1. Exactly! My area has a Case IH dealer and a John Deere dealer. You don’t see Massey-Ferguson or New Holland equipment in my area, cause there’s not a local dealer, and no farmer can afford to travel to find one, any time their equipment breaks, or they need maintenance or parts.

        So many people here are used to getting any thing, any brand, with full reviews off Amazon, or any other site they can find a deal on. They have no idea what it’s like to have a limited set of buying options in the area, and what it’s like to be forced into that limited choice.

        1. The dealer support thing goes beyond tractors. I was chatting with a friend the other day about chain saws. We live in a Stihl area and he got a very nice Husqvarna, which was fine until it needed some standard maintenance pieces. Simple things like air cleaners had to be ordered from local places, they were not stocked, while most Stihl consumable parts were off the shelf. Both saws have their pluses and minuses, but being able to get pieces off the shelf is a really big plus if you live out in the country and depend on your chainsaw.

    3. Automotive CAN bus and various body electronics can ONLY be accessed with some very specialized gear. I feel for the farmers as these guys are at the end of the whip. I hope they can get the law passed and allow them to fix their own gear. When they bought the tractor they effectively paid for it.

  4. I really hope so. Atleast you have my full spiritual (is that the word?) support.

    Yeah, i don’t have a Deere anything, and never will, and never would now (now as in from the moment i’ve known, this is not news to me) that i see what kind of jerks they are.

  5. It would be interesting to see what other production machinery (because that’s what farming equipment is) is locked down; Thin-film deposition equipment? Material handling robots? Conveyor belts? Janitors’ brooms?

    This is part of a larger problem in many industries: They’ve lost touch with the reality of the job that the equipment has to do, the customers who depend on that equipment, and how it has to be kept running. There is mining equipment out there that the manufacturer has changed part numbers and screwed up parts availability to the point where the mechanics are hiring machinists to make some pieces from scratch just to keep things going. I won’t mention the manufacturer, but they’re slipping down the Fortune 50 list as you read this.

    A lot of finger-pointing can be done with, but one of the culprits is the divergence of manufacturing entities into financial ventures. I’d bet that Deere Farm Credit is the most profitable arm of the corporation (just as GMAC drives General Motors most of the time, if you’ll pardon the pun). This leads to hiring of “quants” rather than engineers and customer service agents, and the creation of vaporous financial instruments rather than steel and rubber.

    Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy applies here as it does everywhere else.

    1. Yes, but when one’s literally paying billions for a semiconductor plant, there’s a lot of pull right there. Especially when an inability to repair can cause millions of dollars lost per an hour. In short be very careful screwing with someone’s livelihood, be it a farmer, or a multinational corporation.

      1. Almost everything capital equipment wise in a semiconductor plant is on service contract. Most suppliers have field service engineers on site 24hrs in case something goes wrong. So local maintenance never needs to know what is really inside the machines.

    2. My Dad grilled the idea into me that if you want to get the job done right the first time… plan on having to learn how to do the job in detail, master the job and then learn how to make the parts to make the job more efficient and effective. Basically, so operations can keep going since easier to machine or make the parts sometimes if not most of the time. Plus, room for improvement on critical control points and maybe even breaking cheaper parts to save the more expensive parts from failing. That will help with having no issues keeping a job and maintaining what you need to have to do the job.

      Unfortunately, being this way can get poisonous, deadlier and mass murderous more than I imagined.

      There is a difference between country people groups that are self sufficient, value added and able and willing to do the required job for survival validly or close enough not maliciously… and city people groups that are mafias of desperate mobs of malicious robbers and worse… with many seemingly cute, sweet and innocent looking.

      Some says I wish bombing, or at least the missile, Wings/Commands were more active.

  6. This is one area where we can thank Russia. They are the ones that started hacking the software, and have athe black market on reverse engineered code. Without their efforts, many farmers would never be able to refill the window washer fluid without having to unbrick the vehicles computer.

    1. Looks like they aren’t into supporting their customer base. And why should they since they have them over a barrel and can make them come to some authorized JD dealership for help.

    2. I agree with the others. I was under the impression there was a traveling tech/mechanic for the large machinery in very rural areas. That will create a market for sure to have third party shadetree mechanics.

    3. There generally is… And he can see you in five days, after he’s made the rounds to the customers in line before you. Also, enjoy the field service fee that you’ll be charged, cause your tractor bricked itself all over you having to replace a hydraulic hose, but it detected a hydraulic fault, and now needs a dealer reset, even though you actually fixed the problem yourself, just like you and your fellow farmers have been doing for over a century.

    4. Wondering if the mega-farms annual revenues are studied so that those that purchase the equipment are being price in service and parts gouged… by I’d guess the most malicious if the business consumers aren’t trained in creating entities and bankruptcies like the banks can do. May be an issue with grandiose criminal stakeholders/shareholders interests also that aren’t generally targeted by law enforcement.

      Seems there are some sort of ownership and consumer rights to maintain operations that can be traced to other statutory and constitutional law. May be something with Right to Know Laws also, though I am thinking where compounding and concealing products details past a time frame of market exclusivity of devices is criminal even. May be criminals acts performed by the concealing. Seems like a seduction, manipulation, coercion, intimidation to exhort in some sort of desensitized to the public by attorneys sexual deviant or robbery ways and means if the details of devices hardware and more-so now days software isn’t available to the general public after a certain time.

      Different, I know… just going by the book.

  7. I’m all for the states working to pass right to repair laws, and I certainly hope they cover all products, not just tractors. Most tech hardware manufacturers immediately void your warranty if you even try to investigate the internals of the devices the peddle, let alone try to repair a malfunctioning unit yourself. And virtually no industry will allow a customer to access, or even purchase, the diagnostic tools necessary to attempt a repair on most devices.

    The auto industry, with the OBD/OBDII protocol, is a notable exception where the government mandated an open standard for at least the most basic of functions. However, the auto industry has only implemented that to the absolute minimum extent required by law, and still keeps the vast majority of the data available on the bus locked up in proprietary communication methods. Yes, you can go out and buy an OBDII reader, and any decent one will also read/write to the CAN bus as well, but good luck finding software that can actually interpret most of the data flying around on those buses. The only make of cars I’ve found a good, easily/freely available tool that can do expanded diagnostic work beyond basic engine codes, and actually interact with at least some of the subsystems is Ford, where the excellent ForScan utility is available. Pretty much any other make, you’re looking at purchasing either a very expensive piece of software, or a very expensive diagnostic tool to do more than read basic engine codes or write data back to any of the modules. It cost me $200 at the dealer just to find out the airbag module on my Chevy Aveo was fried, simply because there aren’t any reasonably priced tools available that will read that module.

    Lesson to be learned by the tech industry – Don’t piss off farmers. They may be a generally quiet bunch, but they carry big sticks and aren’t afraid to use them!

    1. Just to clarify, by big sticks, I mean both political clout in the state legislatures, as well as a huge level of importance to society as a whole. When farmers start to speak out in large numbers about an issue that is likely to affect the world’s food supply (or cause significant price increases), people tend to listen a little more than they do to your average yuppy activists.

    2. You can buy vendor-approved software for almost any vehicle brand, it’s just expensive. A business that specializes in car repair will obviously have no problem investing in said software, it’s just that us homegamers usually can’t afford spending well past $1000 to fix something that a licensed mechanic will do for $200.

      But for tractor/combine harvester worth hundreds of thousands of $, whose repair bill is never under 3 digits, even a $2000 cable and software would quickly pay for itself. It’s just that nobody sells them and nobody but JD can.

      As for the warranty – you need that. Once you allow people to open up the device without voiding the warranty, you can expect a lot of them will accidentally damage something, because they do not have the required expertise to fix said device.
      This would sharply increase the amount of warranty claims, where you’d either have to loose money for replacing something that “uncle bumblefuck” destroyed/damaged or spend time (=money) examining the device to determine if it failed because of a defect or because of “outside intervention”.
      You can be sure that sooner or later this would be reflected in the product end price, which we as the consumers would pay.

    3. The industry HATES right-to -repair laws. There was a huge push against it by OEMs in Massachusetts when we had ours up for a vote. Luckily, it passed. Repairing stuff isn’t rocket science. But when you have overpriced dealerships who swap until it works, charging you premium prices for every attempt, while missing the underlying problem, people star to get angry.

  8. When I purchase a product, it is mine and I own it. If a company tells me I can not perform my own maintenance on that product, I will demand my money back and file a suit to get 100% of it returned to me. They have the right to void any warranty claims if I work on it but, not allowing me to do so is cause for me to never buy ANY of their future products as well as announce to the world why I am not doing so. This is a typical bean counter (accounting) short term scheme to gain total market share but, in fact, it is the fastest way to hand market share over to your competitors. You would think these “experts” would have known this has been tried before, many times, with catastrophic results for the company’s bottom line. The best and ONLY way to boost long term sales is to have a superior product, stand behind that product, and keep your present customers very happy. They used to teach this in marketing school when I was in college but, I suppose they no longer do. Many a brand name has been destroyed using similar tactics and the same will happen to John Deere if this practice continues. My view of this situation is not skewed by the fact that my girlfriend left me for a tractor salesmen…she wrote me a John Deere letter.


  9. Onan generators have the same problems. 16 fault codes out of 32 chase you around in a circle and the other 16 are only serviceable at your authorized dealer. and of course its attached to your 100k motor home. If the computer says its low on oil and isn’t going to start, even thou its running out of the top of the dip stick hole, it’s out of oil.
    New cars that set a fault code cannot be read by the owner with his own scanner or auto zone because the computer only allows the dealer to access code data ,

  10. “… instead it is the people who are normally quiet. When people who spend their lives getting things done rather than complaining turn round en masse and rebel, it’s time to sit up and take notice. ”

    Utility companies and smart meters.

  11. As a farmer, I appreciate how well the tech sites have been covering this John Deere repair problem. There are a couple issues I’d like to bring up.
    JD has great support for their largest clients, the ones who buy 10’s to 100’s of units each year.
    JD had good support for the majority of their users, through the dealer network, and most dealers work hard to keep the locals going.
    But there are a lot of dealerships that are barely profitable, allowing independent repair would cost JD a lot. There is no way they will risk an income stream for the ideology of owners rights.
    The end users most in need of independent and DIY repair are the little guys like me who buy a used unit every 5 to 10 years. We are not valued customers.
    As much as I don’t like government regulations, its the only way to get JD to let users access the scan tools. Even then though, we still need their supply chain for parts, and the dealership with mechanics who have all the actual diagnosis and repair knowledge in their heads.
    Last summer our combine started free-wheeling down hills intermittently. It took 3 service calls by a JD mechanic to ride around with the JD laptop, a lot of guessing and replacing things before determining the problem only happened if one of the hydraulic reservoirs had too much or not enough fluid in it.
    We also had them out to diagnose the turbo, but it was a mechanical issue, not the electronically controlled lever.
    JD repair is about 10% of my total expenses. As much as I want all their proprietary tools, it won’t save me much money.

    Looking forward to when robots replace all the current planting, weeding and and harvesting equipment.

    1. It wouldn’t save you much money if you bought the tools yourself, but I’m quite sure that if a local mechanic could buy said tools, he could definitely offer services way cheaper then JD-approved.

    2. When the dealership charges enough to threaten your income and will not lease a replacement tractor in the middle of the planting season that is the time that I call it.

      If they put 200 years of farming work at risk over a GPS unit, hydraulic pump, or valve in the transmission that can be replaced by my own hand in a few hours then we need to seek Federal relief for the problem.

      As a farmer I have been burnt twice by JD and it’s high time that they get fried over the open flame.

  12. As being a farmer myself I’m put on a fence to go either way. I farm in Arkansas and there’s a John Deere tractor for every 40 acres so to speak. I’ve had the other brands and at the end of the day the John Deere is always shining a little brighter in my opinion. From performance to reliability to ergonomics it always seems better. But……On the other hand when it comes to service I have a big problem, not with the service techs themselves, I know them really well and they’re great guys and know everything I ask or have problems with. Its with Deere internally, they’re service prices are ridiculous, to explain here’s what I mean. If you have a problem with a tractor and you call a tech to work on it and he drives to your farm Deere already has a pre set timeframe of what it’s gonna take to fix it. If the job takes the tech two hours to repair it but Deere says it takes for hours you get charged for four. I’ve had repairs before that the labor was higher than the parts. Idk if you’ve looked at the commodity prices lately but they’re not helping pay for all these high dollar repairs and equipment. We’ve had older tractors and newer ones also, make a few trips to the parts counter on that older stuff and I’d rather make a payment on newer equipment. I think it’s ridiculous that Deere even had the nerve to say “they still own the equipment, the farmer is paying to use the technology”.

    1. ” If the job takes the tech two hours to repair it but Deere says it takes for hours you get charged for four. ”

      A LOT of service jobs are like that. Just ask my mechanic, not to mention the electrician, plumber, etc.

      1. And the flip side that no one talks about is that at some dealerships, if the book says it takes 4 hours, and it takes the mechanic 8 because everything is rusted together and refuses to come apart or go back together, he may only get paid for the 4 hours the book says it’s supposed to take him.

    2. This is not a million miles away from some of the concerns I hear. Thanks for that, it’s good to get an on-the-ground perspective on these stories. Living on a farm 5000 miles away gives me some insight, but not necessarily the understanding.

  13. My limeted experience with JD equipment is “if there’s a stunningly expensive way to do something JD will do it” fuel filters for example, everything else I own is around £3to £6 each JD £17 (AR50041) and it lasts no longer than any other and leaks if you’re not careful.

  14. As a gear head I have read that here in the US early on attempts by auto manufacturers to prohibit repairs done by others than the dealer and and the use of service part manufactured by other where quenched at the Federal level. Due to US S.C. rulings concerning intestate commerce this needs to be done at the Federal level to benefit all residents in the USA. As I said to another comment while a mobile service truck is certainly cheaper than transporting machinery to a the dealer, it’s still is expensive, and reinforces the problem rather than changing anything for the benefit of the customer. While I not surprised, but I was taken aback by the man who doesn’t understand why Apple is taking interest in the legislation. Worse yet is the NE legislator who claim not to understand why Apple and Microsoft are taking interest. Perhaps it was hyperbole on their pat, if so that’s bad because this isn’t the time for that. In the event it wasn’t hyperbole its still bad new because it goes to show that major players in NE, may not fully understand the issue. In the cases of machine power plants there may not be no way around microprocessor control to meet emission standards, and decreasing fuel consumption, nothing an Ag. operator can do about that. They can do something about what technology they choose to adopt and to what degree they allow themselves to become dependent on it. As is the case with GPS gear. Personally I’m not confident of a win here in the USA. Where of anything that is to benefit labor, consumers, and smaller producers is immediately derided as socialism, or communism, with those who would benefit being swept up by the rhetoric to the point they parrot it themselves. Yes it’s socialism in the top definition of the term, but here in the US such socialism began with the US Constitution.

  15. JD has always been expensive but a lot of farmers loved them because they were one of the few brands built heavy enough to withstand the abuse from heavy or stony soils… Not every one has muck or loam. This unfortunately may limit some choices, which makes this all the more infuriating. Reading the older posts it is not clear if there is a “EULA” provided the “purchaser” or whether this amounts to undisclosed fees… Anyone know? I do my best to avoid ANY product with such restrictions (seems to be a sign of impending reduction of quality in many things) but it is becoming impossible.
    Guess I’ll keep that red 1955 tractor sitting in the shed a while longer!

    1. Hehe, You should see my dad’s old “red tractor”! It’s a year younger than yours. It’s got custom rear wrap around fender/wheel guards and dual seats, a chemical tank and pressurization pump, and dual spot sprayer nozzles. The front wheel is just that… A single wheel. Not even the dual narrow “V” configuration. It has no PTO, cause it wasn’t needed, and just was extra weight. Converted to 12 volts, and has power out the back, cause we used to also pull behind it a 24 row spot sprayer, made from a hay bale elevator and an old fertilizer tank cart frame. A 90° wheel was part of the rig, and would slide in to the hitch, with a pin securing it. One of the rear wheels had a pin that you popped out to rotate the angle of the rear wheel 90° as well. A hitch on the far end of the spot spray rig allowed it to be pulled down and hitched to the tractor. The thing would roll on the 90° turned wheel and the hitch wheel, and the third wheel would be lifted into the air, to allow for lengthwise transit down roads (my father and uncle collectively operated four different family farms). Because of the way the hitches were played out, it was possible to spin the whole rig on it’s center, as the tractor could angle itself at least 90° to the hitch without binding up on the wheels.

      Also… My dad doesn’t own a computer, has never had internet, and got his first flip phone three years ago. He had a land line before that. He was dumbfounded when a radiator repair on his secondhand John Deere (his first one) ended up racking up a bill of $2000. We’ve been a Case IH family for ever. He upgraded his planter about a decade ago to a really nice JD, and loved it. Getting the tractor was a shock though. It’s not even as computerized as a modern one either. He can still do a lot with it himself, as it’s still old enough for that. I told him all about this whole right to repair business, and how John Deere was handling all this mess. Really opened his eyes, and he told me an interesting thing…

      He had noticed older machines were holding their value… Like REALLY holding their value. He had to really look to find the one he got. We both came to the conclusion that there must be a number of people seeking older John Deere hardware, or choosing to hold onto it longer, and that might be a factor in what had driven up the local prices. The local John Deere dealership had just recently closed three regional dealerships, including the local one, and built a brand new larger dealership in our home town. We were fortunate. We actually ended up with the dealership being closer to our side of town, but some people now have 60+ miles tacked onto their trip if they need service. It’s a painful prospect for THOSE people! I feel bad for them! Tack to that JD’s current self bricking machines and the lucrative field techs… I’m sure JD shareholders aren’t complaining about the pain they bring their customers.

      A farmer ought to be able to reset an error code if he or she does a repair themselves. There’s no justifiable reason for a service tech to charge a couple hundred to come out and replace a hose and reset a computer, when the farmer can replace their OWN hose for far less. That the tractor would sit there bricked, while mechanically repaired, is absurd.

  16. Rather than balking at the creeping ingress of DMCA into everything,
    I strongly expect that the “we just use what works” mindset will follow the same general path as people signing Non-compete clauses in employment has. :/
    Too many people will just acquiesce in order to get through their day in order to “pay the bills”~”get the crops handled” and we end up with these sort of strictures everywhere then.
    As I’ve said elsewhere, We need to pay attention to the camels nose under the tent of things that seem as innocuous as calling software “free” when it should be labeled “tradeware”.
    This adds up slowly and thus becomes so entrenched in our day to day lives as to be almost irremoveable, is how it always works.

    1. Maybe, but nothing happens in a vacuum. The very people who enact the policies we’re complaining about, themselves are going to be affected by other’s like policies. “Just works” is soon going to be at the level of “just stir” with the item being molasses, then concrete.

    2. One more thought. what about when someone spots an exploit in this and unleashes a virus?
      Does Cyber warfare ring a bell for anyone?
      “Security by Obscurity” has long been proven that it fails. Do we really want a major, foundational, fail point of our food chain built with such an attack surface?

      1. Only a few of the newest models have built in web connections, that they charge extra to activate. So the main vector for malware would be usb drives when installing updates.

    1. Cause sometimes you have no choice. NO choice.

      If you have a John Deere dealership 15 miles away, and a Case – International Harvester dealership 60 miles away, and a New Holland dealership 105 miles away… Yeah, you really can’t afford to go with long distance support. If a tractor has a top speed of 18-20 MPH (29-32 KMH), and you need to drive 15 miles vs 60 miles for annual maintenance or repairs, or get a field tech out… Or even just drive to pick up your own parts… That makes a difference! The nearby John Deere dealership would be a “mere” 50 minute drive, each way. The Case IH dealership, in this example, would be a 3 HOUR and 20 minute drive, again, EACH WAY! Considering you might have narrow weather and seasonal windows to perform specific elements of the work within, wasting 2 hours on the road, plus service time, is a whole lot less painful than wasting NEARLY SEVEN HOURS on the road, just to buy from a different brand’s dealership!

      Even when driving by car, to pick up parts, half an hour round trip vs 2 hours round trip is an hour and a half extra you can put toward performing a repair and getting back in the fields! Time = Money!

      It’s not like Amazon, where you can just pick and choose different brands and prices and deals on a browser, and get it delivered with overnight delivery… These are HUGE machines! I drove a pea harvester that weighed 22 tons, as a summer job between high school and college. Down time costs $$$, and if you can run in and out of town in half an hour to pick up a replacement part, and do it yourself, then that’s time saved, but if it takes nearly a full day JUST for the trip alone, assuming the hardware can even move under it’s own power, that’s a frightful cost in fuel, time lost, etc…

      You get why some farmers simply don’t even HAVE a choice now? My father is lucky, since we have both a Case IH and a John Deere dealership about 10 minutes away. There’s a New Holland dealership two towns over, but I never knew it was there till years into my life… No one from even two towns away bought those things! Not when a Case IH and a JD dealership were closer! We’re primarily a Case family, but we have a really good JD planter, and a good, but costly JD tractor. Previously, we had a pair of International Harvesters from the early 1970s, an IH 886 and an IH 1586. Good workhorses. Served us MANY, MANY years. Sold the 1586, but needed a big tractor to replace it.

      We don’t speak about our old IH 2+2 though… Good Lord, what an awful heap of scrap that was! XD
      Cool looking tractor, but so many issues…

      Yeah, we fortunately have a choice, but not everyone does.

  17. So. JD want to levy a premium to protect their IP.
    Nothing wrong there – as long as the drop their purchase price over the expected life of the purchase – say 40% off the sticker price and spare parts, but allow the ‘taxed’ services to go back on.
    This ensures their investment in product innovation is safe, and allows the customer’s business to remain cost-effective, while complying with emissions, updates and all the other ‘reasons’ for the lock-out repair bill.
    Nett TCo remains roughly the same – nut distributed differently
    Two points. I agree with the right-to-repair, and in any argument like above – ‘follow the money’ and you’ll see why it’s a good idea for some and not for others,

  18. It’s the Monsanto business model. Get over it or get out of it. The fact that JD has farmers over a barrel is a train that left the station a long time ago. My local JD dealer is a total prick. $250.00 for an oil change and blade sharpening on a freaking riding mower. The big guys around here are all K Street lobbyist hobby farmers so they don’t give a s*** and give JD a blank check. No farms, no food. Stop whining.

  19. Thanks for posting this article. Right to Repair is an issue I’ve had on my radar but reading through this spurred me into action. I am now a delegate for my precinct DFL convention in MN next month and have started asking candidates about their stance on the R2R bill before the state legislature. I encourage other US readers to do this as well — the time is right to get politically involved and make sure the issue is visible for the 2018 election cycle!

  20. Unfortunately, what JD is doing is part of a much bigger trend towards central control driven by the profit motive. Unless people understand what is happening and demand that it stop, it is likely to eventually result in the death of democracy and individual freedom. When you effectively own nothing and ownership is replaced by payment for services just about everyone will “owe their soul to the company store” becoming the feudal serfs of the 21st century. A free market, which puts economic power in the hands of consumers, requires real competition and rules to prevent monopolies or near monopolies. Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are all part of this concentration of power in the hands of a tiny minority. They get to spy on everyone and can use that data not just to make more money for themselves but can, and one day probably will, use that knowledge to manipulate markets, politics and people. Putin knows this and the ruling elite in the USA and elsewhere are learning how to use technology to vacuum up wealth and increase their power. Democracy is in danger of being replaced by a global Kleptocracy.

    It doesn’t have to be that way. It is not an inevitable result of technological change. Technology is a tool that con be used to enhance individual freedom or distroy it.

    I am trying to do my bit to make technology democratic by working on designing and implementing distributed IOT systems that do not pass your data through a central cloud service. The idea is that the user should be in full control of their own devices (which they OWN). It also requires open standards for IOT object communications so that there is true competition and nobody is locked into a service like Alexa or Google Voice. This is a small step but we all need to do our bit to ensure that technology works for the people and not just for a tiny ruling elite.

  21. Is Open Source Ecology’s LifeTrac in a good enough state to challenge the current state of things, and if not then what are the major obstacles that need to be adressed for it to be attractive as an alternative to proprietary equipment?

  22. Has anyone else ever read Superbiometalemon by Christopher Anvil? That’s where this is all going to end up if the manufacturers are allowed to keep doing these kinds of things.

  23. What is interesting to me is that the original developers of larger population density groups that went past the stone and copper age in developing implements started off with more community manufacturing operations of the farm implements, with trade and bartering for what was required that wasn’t native.

    Really, other than transportation… what other farm implements or survival implements were required to me metal iron or steel age systems (you can even think of a gun and knife as a wild farm implement for processing food)?

    Cooking and maybe some clothing systems. Lodging can be debatable since can technically use all wood joints. Even cooking and clothing systems can use all fiber or wood or mineral (stone and clay) systems.

    So… think that bog iron or other iron sources were found and with clay and some aggregate and specific stones (cutting and grinding/sharpening) alone… foundries were made and castings were poured if not forged. Then the hardest tools were ground to shape and chisel files and other cutting tools that were case hardened to make even harder tools to more directly shape and cut the metal castings and later post forging tech extrusions.

    There almost seems like there can be a revolution of DIY completely from mines type systems implemented and the idea at least of engineered obsolescence can be ignored and re-design of the cheaper made components to last longer with more cost effective simpler fail safe mechanisms in place to avoid the more expensive parts replaced.

    I know this is a challenge for size and weight reduction goals and latest designs.

    What is the critical control point or failure point? Then think like risk and impact assessments.

    If anything… is an interesting way to think about systems we invest in that for some reason do not last multiple generations as the post stone and copper age people groups had originally planned. Over engineering is almost a thing of the past other than recovering from the under engineering of the 70’s and 80’s… at least with vehicles.

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