Right to Repair has been a hot topic over the last decade, particularly when it comes to automotive, commercial truck, and off-highway diesel-powered equipment. One of the biggest players in the debate has been the John Deere company. While the object of this post is to focus on Right to Repair as it relates to commercial trucks, automotive Right to Repair does have to be addressed, since that is where most legislation on this issue starts. Before we get into that, though, a quick recap on the history of Right to Repair…
History of Right to Repair
It’s important to note at the start that there is no federal legislation relating to Right to Repair. Throughout its history, Right to Repair has been legislated at the state level, starting in Massachusetts. On November 26, 2013, Massachusetts enacted bill H. 3757. Though this law was created apply to one state, the various organizations from both the manufacturer and aftermarket sides of the issue agreed to sign an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) committing vehicle manufacturers to meet the Massachusetts requirement in all 50 states. H. 3757 and this MOU only applied to automotive Right to Repair.
Then, in August 2015, the Heavy Duty MOU was signed by a long list of commercial truck manufacturers, as well as a wide range of aftermarket commercial truck associations. The HD MOU generated a lot of attention at the time, but proved to ultimately be a toothless effort. That said, it’s still worth looking more closely at the finer points of the HD MOU in a little more detail to better understand what followed it…
Breaking Down the MOU
Section 3a & 3b of the HD MOU stated that manufacturers – for model years 2010 and newer – “shall make available the same diagnostic tools and repair information that dealers receive to the general public.” The primary issue here was that software wbe made available at “fair and reasonable terms.” A half-page definition of exactly what was meant by “fair and reasonable terms” followed, but was written in such a way that manufacturers still had the ability to charge whatever prices they so chose.
In effect, if a person wanted to purchase the diagnostic software for Cummins engines, it would cost approximately $1,300/year or $110/month. Given the popularity of Cummins engines, a repair shop should be able to make this fit their budget. By comparison, HINO Trucks – who sell very few trucks in the US – charge $2,400 per year for their diagnostic software, almost double the price for Cummins.
Effects of the MOU
As someone in the industry in 2015, I can say with confidence that the HD MOU changed nothing. Diagnostic software was available before the HD MOU was signed and it was available after it was signed. Some repair information became more readily available and some was still not available. A noticeable standout was Caterpillar software, due to the fact that CAT didn’t make engines after 2010 and the HD MOU didn’t hold them to previous years.
The HD MOU did accomplish some things. Manufacturers agreed to use standardized adapters; they agreed to give access to the ECUs through data ports; and there were some other important developments for the aftermarket.
However, the main problems still existed:
- It was unaffordable to purchase all the OEM software and repair information a shop might need
- The HD MOU didn’t apply to off-highway diesel-powered equipment
- There wasn’t a clear penalty for the manufacturer if they failed to follow through on the terms of the HD MOU
This last point was what made it largely moot.
It goes without saying that, since the original Massachusetts MOU was signed in 2013, technology has changed. The original law applied to physical connections to the vehicle, not wireless connections. With the prevalence of over-the-air software updates, telematic devices, and Bluetooth/wireless tools pulling data off vehicles, manufacturers started making the argument that Right to Repair didn’t apply to them.
And they were correct– the law stipulated physical connections.
This led to another turning point in Massachusetts. The aftermarket industry wanted to include commercial on-highway with automotive and most automotive manufacturers wanted to protect their dealers and aftermarket revenue. The increasingly heated debate led to some of the most aggressively offensive commercials we’ve ever seen from manufacturers. In one, Right to Repair was equated to sexual predators using the data to stalk their victims. In another, a masked man broke into a person’s home and claimed he had used the data from their vehicle to find out where they lived. Meanwhile, the aftermarket argued they wanted Right to Repair to be safe, secure, and private. A study was produced by members of the aftermarket showing a 36.2% price difference between the same repairs performed by dealers and aftermarket repair shops.
The people agreed with the aftermarket and, in early 2021, 75% of Massachusetts voters passed a new law. Almost immediately, manufacturers claimed the law “was an impossible task” to complete with “an inter-operable, standardized, and open access platform.” Naturally, lawsuits followed. Federal Judge Douglas Woodlock was set to hear the case between manufacturers and the aftermarket, but the date was moved several times before the announcement of a closed-door hearing on September 1, 2022. At time of writing, the judge has yet to rule on the case and has given both parties an opportunity to present “further submissions” related to “two major outstanding issues” raised by the case.
(Though the Massachusetts law is on the books, State Attorney General Maura Healey has stated he will not uphold the law until Judge Woodlock announced his ruling. Healey could, however, change his mind with 14-day notice.)
This is where John Deere comes in.
John Deere’s Stance
In a 2015 in an article from Wired Magazine, John Deere – the world’s largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment – told the US Copyright Office that farmers do not own their tractors. John Deere’s reasoning was that, because of the computer code embedded into various parts of the tractor, farmers only received “implied licenses for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.” John Deere drew a heavy light between “ownership” and “rights to operate.” Ironically, this same heavy line blurred the distinction between software and hardware.
In short, electronics manufacturers put security measures into their devices to prevent customers from hacking, modifying, or stealing the manufacturer’s intellectual property (IP). This is true for iPads, robot pool cleaners, farm tractors… anything that runs off a central processing unit (CPU). However, customers argue that, having purchased the hardware, they can do with it whatever they so choose– and should have the right to repair it themselves, instead of being beholden to the manufacturer.
John Deere asserted that these customers were violating federal law – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or “DMCA”) – in particular, by hacking their products. John Deere argued that, if customers could hack into their tractors’ entertainment system, they could use John Deere’s software to pirate music. Because many people buy half-million dollar tractors just to steal the latest song.
Due to the fact that John Deere tractors are off-highway vehicles, they have not been subject to previous Right to Repair legislation. However, that hasn’t insulated them from a number of lawsuits. As of June 2022, 13 lawsuits have been filed in various states, with 9 of them being consolidated to the US District Court. These cases vary from anti-trust to violations to violations of the US Clean Air Act, among other challenges. Ultimately, the majority of them are predicated on the same core claim: John Deere has monopolized the repair services market.
In the last several years, John Deere has slightly shifted their business model. Today, John Deere makes certain diagnostic software available – for a fee – called Customer Service ADVISOR. This is a watered-downer dealer version of their proprietary diagnostic software. They’ve also released JDLink, which lets owners view fault codes and issues on equipment through a website, but also doesn’t facilitate diagnostics or actual repairs.
John Deere has been particularly aggressive in defending their IP. Even Diesel Laptops has been subject to John Deere attorneys sending us letters and emails for minor infractions. For instance, we called our aftermarket solution for John Deere equipment “John Deere Diagnostic Tool.” To appease their lawyers, we had to make that “Diagnostic Tool for John Deere.” In another instance, they weren’t happy about an image of a John Deere tractor on our website, even though the logo was not present. They claimed that the color of the tractor itself represented John Deere. We made the tractor one shade different, even though we didn’t strictly have to.
All of which boils down to the fact that John Deere is not hedging. Even if John Deere is required by law to provide more access to their software, it’s almost guaranteed to be watered-down, expensive, and hard to get. But there are aftermarket alternatives. Here are some of the options that exist to help you repair your own John Deere equipment.
Aftermarket Repair Tools for John Deere
Dealer level diagnostic tool – Performs advanced commands such as DPF regens, injector programming, disable dereate/latched codes conditions, and thousands more.
Diesel Explorer – A free, PC-based program that will view cand fault codes and live data on John Deere tractors.
Diesel Decoder – Bluetooth hardware that pairs with your smartphone to read and clear fault codes, along with viewing live data.
Repair Information for John Deere
Diesel Repair is a web and mobile based application that has repair information on every single John Deere fault code that exists, plus wiring diagrams on many models.
DTC Solutions Off Highway Edition is a PC-based program that contains repair information for off-highway fault codes.
Right to Repair has been an issue for years and, as technology continues to advance, it will likely remain one for years to come. If you’d like to get involved – or tell your elected officials how you feel about the subject – we recommend the AutoCare Association website.
To all the farmers, we appreciate everything you do for us. There are a lot of us working in the background to help keep your equipment running.
Good luck out there.