The so-called “Right to Repair” movement, which is pushing legislation at all levels of government, is based on the false narrative that equipment end users are denied the ability to repair and maintain their own equipment. The truth is, unlike the consumer electronics sector and other industries targeted by right to repair proponents, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and authorized distributors of heavy equipment already make diagnostic tools, parts and repair manuals available to their customers. However, a false perception remains that farmers and other end users are prevented from making necessary repairs to their tractors.
In President Biden’s executive order from last summer “promoting competition in the American economy,” he encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to address “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items, such as the restrictions imposed by powerful manufacturers that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment.” Presidential candidates, U.S. senators and representatives, members of the Canadian Parliament and state lawmakers have all repeated similar claims.
With state legislatures reconvening and mandates being proposed in both Washington, D.C., and Ottawa, OEMs and equipment distributors must go on offense and be clear in pointing out that customers already can repair their own equipment. What they are prohibited from doing is modifying their equipment, particularly to circumvent important safety and environmental controls.
AED views government-mandated right to repair policies as a solution in search of a problem. Accordingly, the industry must be persistent in its efforts to educate customers about the misinformation surrounding right to repair and to highlight the information, tools and parts that are readily available to customers. If not, right to repair advocates will continue to shape the narrative and win the public relations battle.
C & B Operations LLC, a John Deere agricultural equipment dealer with 37 locations across South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, has taken a particularly proactive strategy to inform and educate its customers about their rights when it comes to repairing their equipment.
“We support the right to repair,” says Jack Gerhardt, Vice President of Aftermarket Strategy & Support for C & B. C & B makes service manuals and tools available and fully supports a customer’s right to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair their equipment.
If equipment customers already have the right to repair, then what are proponents of government mandates pursuing? “‘Right to Repair’ is misleading,” Gerhardt explains. “The legislation is really proposing the right to modify.” “Call it what it is,” Peter Burwell, C & B’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, says with conviction. “It’s really the right to modify – and that needs a deeper discussion. There is more to this legislation than right to repair.”
Elaborating on that sentiment, Andy Brehm, deputy general counsel for C & B, says, “Customers have every right to repair equipment, but there are concerns about them making modifications that could be dangerous.” C & B does not support the right to compromise safety, manufacturer warranties or compliance with EPA emissions standards.
Proponents of right to repair are really seeking unfettered access to onboard software and source code, efforts that C & B, AED and the broader industry vehemently reject. The only reason customers need access to the source code is to enable them to modify safety and environmental protections on the equipment to improve performance. “Even the dealers can’t change the codes,” Burwell explains.
The unintended consequences of equipment modifications are significant. Overriding safety features could put operators and bystanders at risk of injury. “Road speed [can be] increased,” Gerhardt states. “Steering [can be] compromised.” He points out that most of today’s equipment features drive-by-wire technology rather than mechanical linkages. When systems are related, there could be unintended consequences from customer-made modifications.
Furthermore, overriding emissions controls and safety systems could have legal consequences, and it’s unclear how right to repair legislation may impact legal liability for dealers. “It’s a risk,” Burwell sums up.
Right to repair mandates can also trigger a financial impact for manufacturers and dealers. “Some states call for access to proprietary codes,” Gerhardt says. If manufacturers are forced to share them, he believes it will result in the loss of competitive advantage. Similarly, he thinks dealers could lose their competitive advantage under this legislation. “Minnesota legislation [that was proposed] a few years ago would require dealers to sell parts to anyone at dealer cost. It’s killing the dealer. Why would we inventory parts [if we have to sell them at cost]?” He contends that having to allocate space for inventory and time to handle parts would become untenable if dealers were forced to sell parts at cost.
As policymakers continue to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach by treating heavy equipment the same as consumer products, such as cell phones and tablets, it’s imperative that dealers inform their customers about their right to repair, rendering legislation unnecessary. To that end, C & B has embarked on an education campaign to provide information to customers while opposing the broader legislative efforts.
Communication is key. C & B has a section of its website dedicated to assisting its customers perform “do-it-yourself repairs.” Resources include C & B Central, a free online platform where customers can quickly access detailed schematics and parts information including pricing and availability. Furthermore, C & B directs customers to manuals and publications provided by John Deere [www.deerequipment.com/parts/operatingmanuals].
C & B also informs its customers of the opportunity to access Customer Service Advisor, a fee-based annual subscription that allows customers to take advantage of the same software platform used by certified John Deere dealers, and to purchase of specialized tooling identical to that used by its own technicians.
“People are not eliminated from the repair market,” he said, noting that over-the-counter parts sales have gone up 3 percent since 2017. “Today, 62 percent of our parts are sold over the counter; it’s the majority of our business,” demonstrating that both individual owners and independent shops are repairing equipment. “The remaining 38 percent of parts sales go toward warranty repairs, internal reconditioning of traded equipment and dealer-provided repair, maintenance and upgrades of customer-owned equipment.”
It’s imperative that dealers communicate to customers their right to repair and inform them of resources available. Notifying customers of their rights could help curtail the growing momentum for legislation. “There needs to be conversations to build an understanding,” Burwell asserts, adding, “We want to be a voice in the discussion.” C & B is confident that its strategy of honesty and candor with customers and policymakers, its ever-expanding offering of self-repair tools and proactive communication will help defeat this misnamed, dangerous and extreme legislative effort.