You Can Now Fix Your Deere

Over the last few years we have brought you many stories about John Deere tractors, and how their repair has been locked down such that only manufacturer-authorised technicians can work on them. They’ve become a poster child in the battle for the right to repair, a symbol of the worst practices. Finally now we can bring you some good news of sorts, as the agricultural giant has signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation to ensure that their products will henceforth be repairable by people without Deere approval.

We can’t imagine that Deere will have taken this step willingly, and while we’d like to imagine that consumer protests in favour of right-to-repair have hit their mark, we’re guessing that it’s more of an economic pressure at work alongside the threat of legislation outside their native America. If farmers getting caught out waiting for a Deere van to arrive while their crop withers in the field wasn’t enough, when the price of a second-hand tractor without the DRM outstrips that of a newer one with it, eventually the sales of new tractors will also suffer.

So this is good news, and we’re guessing that other agricultural manufacturers doing the same DMCA practices will now follow suit. But it’s not a complete victory. The problem starts not with the DMCA restriction itself, but with the extension of the machine’s computer system into every part, including those many parts which simply don’t need it. It’s not a complete victory if anyone can now use the software to register a new hydraulic valve with the system; instead that hydraulic valve should not have to be authorised in the first place. It’s this creeping unnecessary complexity which is the true enemy of right-to-repair, and we shouldn’t forget that.

Header image: Dwight Sipler, CC BY 2.0.

29 thoughts on “You Can Now Fix Your Deere

  1. I hope food prices will drop because without all this fake sensors and ovecomplicated parts will be removed so Tractors and their repair will be cheaper.
    John Deere lost some cases because it was their mistake when computer say some part need replace but part was ok, sensor was fault.
    It is not only John Dere, a lot of tractors and new cars have same problem.

    1. Yes like when you make the switch from horse to automobile. Suddenly you can get a broken wheel. Run out of gasoline. What have you. But at least you don’t have to shoe your horse anymore.

      This is not a problem with broken sensors, that in all likelyhood can be repaired, this is coporate greed, walling you in to make money off of repairs.

      What’s with the influx of luddism?

      1. This has nothing to do with Luddism:
        Old Style John Deere you were not allowed to let anyone but JD touch your tractor other than driving it.

        Now you can let other companies maintain them. They can use their expertise to say that a certain valve is faulty, is ok but the sensor is faulty, or even that it’s faulty but the tractor can still work till after the harvest. However, they have no way without JD’s cooperation to tell the main computer to switch the tractor back into operation, despite said switch’s sensor telling there is a fault.

        Right now I have made the expert decision to keep driving my car with a clutch that is going out in “degraded mode”, until it’s completely gone and then scrap the car, instead of repairing it. Not having the freedom of making that choice means you don’t “own” the car/tractor, which is not in line with the amount of money you shelled out for it. Basically JD is treating farmers like they are leasing a tractor.

          1. If they require you to use their parts, they can either charge more for parts alone, or give a discount if one of their dealers does the repair.
            Reminds me of something from 50 years ago where a piece of equipment had a warranty that covered parts only, not labor, so they jacked up the parts cost to cover the labor, essentially making the warranty useless.
            Where I worked had a tech that escaped the Soviet bloc, and the tech for the equipment had escaped as well, and told us about this, pointing out that the GSA contract for the equipment required a warranty to cover parts and labor, so we weren’t screwed.
            BTW, the common failure mode was to miss the black rectangle that marked a new page, and spit out an entire box of expensive dielectric coated paper, making the company even more money.

        1. Just put a mouse in it and keep driving it.

          Every car ever built needs a small block V8 upgrade.

          What car won’t let you do a clutch?
          I know water cooled VWs (including alt branded VWs) aren’t worth doing clutches on. But won’t let you?

  2. This program is far from full right-to-repair. There are so many restrictions on it that for a lot of things you may as well not bother. Its like the Apple programs in that respect, its enough that they can say to legislators “see, we already offer independent repair, no need for those pesky laws” while still keeping most of the control over (and more importantly most of the revenue from) repairs of their devices.

    1. Yeah, John Deere should have been smacked way harder than this. At least it’s not a complete vindication of their behavior, but still.
      This country (and most western countries) obviously DESPISES farmers and wants them liquidated and replaced with one hideously overpowered mega-agri-corp that can be used to exert all kinds of wicked pressure on populations.

  3. The MOU is a scam, which disgraces John Deere even further. It includes an agreement that the farmers’ organization won’t support right-to-repair legislation.

    John Deere = assholes

    I hope someone burns their business down by importing Chinese equipment and driving them out of business.

  4. They will find a way to blame any failures on unauthorized repairs, and charge the poor farmer even more than if he brought it to them initially. I can come up with several ways they could do this, but I’m not telling them, and I’m not posting it here where they can see.

  5. None of this creeping complexity? Sorry, not going to happen.

    While things should be as simple as possible, there is an unavoidable tax to be paid for features. Want the tractor to provide precise soil compaction measurements as it drives the fields? You need sensors in the wheel hubs, networked to a central computer that combines it with odometry-based position finding based on the readings of a plethora of other sensors. That’s not going away. It’s needed for that feature and others to work and be useful.

    The best we can hope for is that it be open and documented.

    1. P.S. This exact fight has been playing out in computers for decades. Want a faster processor? You need cache, which means the added complexity of a cache controller. Multiple processors? Now you need a system interconnect with cache coherency, which means bus transactions and bus locking and atomic instructions and so on. Oh, you don’t want one processor to lock out another? You’re going to need to transition from a bus to a routed network fabric (eg. AMD’s infinity fabric). Now your basic interconnect between processors is a network of router units making decisions and routing transaction flits between each other. And this is just one line of examples. Similar pattern in storage technologies, peripheral interfaces, GPU complexes, OOM superscalar processors, and so on.

      1. No, I do not want a faster processor, I want a system that does not get destroyed by feature creep. End of updates does not mean end-of-life, but end-of-prototype-status. Sadly I have not seen this when I lost my “last known good” to the “no updates is dangerous” fairy tale (especially a mandated bug fix for a bug which was introduced in a later than my version killed a program I need, and downgrade after realize was practically impossible, because ‘you need at least version x to be safe’)

  6. As a hackaday reader and at a same time, as a worker in the embedded Ag sector, I think it’s not a simple subject. I understand the need for customers to repair by themselves , but in Ag , machines are becoming more and more complicated , using Isobus for communicating between ECUs and Virtual Terminals. And it’s needed for precision spraying, hoeing and so on. Putting your hand in that could lead to big troubles … An ECU can control hydraulic functions like boom folding , unfolding. Imagine doing that on a road with cars, instead of the fields…

    1. Farmers and indeed regular mechanics have been repairing this stuff since forever, just because the control systems are now cleverer doesn’t change the issue (a 1940’s tractor is just as deadly as a 2020 tractor) – it’s just become much easier to lock people out and be able to charge loads of money for service.

      Ultimately I hope farmers & general consumers will vote with their wallets and “dinosaurs will die” – there’s always someone willing to take your throne if you get complacent and I’m sure there’ll be some smaller manufacturers lining up to get in on a slice of the pie.

  7. A win but is it too soon though?

    Consumer automobiles are still in beginning stages of being locked down compared to JD tractors. But they are definitely moving in that direction. As cars become less repairable maybe having each other as allies would have done farmers, independant and amateur auto mechanics some good. Now the latter won’t have the farmers protesting along side them.

    1. Never too soon. This is a good precedent that we can reference during other fights. Soon you will have farmers protesting because they can repair their tractor but not their truck

  8. I have experienced this with trying to get chainsaws repaired at SMALL ENGINE repair centers.
    I have 2 Craftsmen (Sears) chain saws and took them to several shops who ignorantly tone told me the only ones they service is the ones listed on the signs outside. Well that is pretty much Stil and Echo even though much of the saws parts that need to be replaced or tuned are generic parts or made by the same company that builds it for Stil and Echo.
    So my newest most expensive saw was a Stil just so there is a place I Can take it to to get it services when needed. My Craftsman saw I still have for parts maybe repair if I can find a willing place but these used to be great until the carb and tubing needed work that I would rather have done by a shop and not need to learn small engine repair skills.

    1. I picked up a whole box of time-life style homeowner books on electrical wiring, basic plumbing, and so on. One of them was small engine repair. I’m a pretty handy guy, but never really considered that I would, for example, use a lawnmower enough that it needed to be rebuilt. It is a full rebuild, too, including lapping and honing cylinders and stuff. I would say that your problem definitely falls into what I call “it is already broken, so it isn’t like I’m gonna super-break it by trying to fix it myself” territory. You could probably find one of those books free online or for peanuts on electronic-bay auction website. Yeah, just junking and buying a new one may be cheaper or even easier, but what is the fun in that?

    2. That’s a good decision, you will keep that Stil saw for the rest of your life.

      The problem with the Chinese/Craftsman type tools is to get parts and repair diagrams for it, the shop could probably fix it but they would have to spend twice as much time as when repairing a Stihl or Husqvarna and no one wants to pay that price for a cheap saw.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.