Every car and light truck built since the 1996 model year comes with an OBD II (on-board diagnostics) plug-in port, which allows any mechanic to communicate with the on-board ECM. That’s the computer that controls the engine operating parameters.
If there’s a problem, just plug in one of those OBD II (II because it’s the second generation) code readers and the car tells a mechanic where to look for a problem. Those readers are made by a variety of tool manufacturers and sold at any automotive-related store
Ag equipment manufacturers, on the other hand, all have their own diagnostic systems. And so far, they’ve been reluctant to share the diagnostic tools or even access to ECMs with anyone outside their dealer network. That includes owners.
One of the benefits of that approach for brands is it forces owners to go to a dealership for some service, boosting the profit potential for dealers. Although, that isn’t the primary reason why brands say they’ve decided to keep that access an in-house secret. Keeping machines operating as engineers intended, they say, is the real motivation behind it.
Nevertheless, some of the new corporate dealerships that have come to dominate the industry seem to have taken the notion of proprietary service information to heart, and in a way that seems foreign to many long-time farmers. One Saskatchewan dealership service manager wouldn’t even let me glance at a wiring diagram in a service manual when I was trying to diagnose an electrical problem on my tractor, even though I would have bought the part I needed from them after figuring out which one that was faulty.
Hire their mechanic to solve the problem or get lost was the VERY clear message I was given.
The backlash to that sort of information hoarding has been building, and John Deere has borne the brunt of it in the public eye. In some U.S. states, including Nebraska, the push to pass “Right to repair” legislation, forcing equipment manufacturers to allow access to ECMs and to provide information related to those repairs, has been slowly progressing for some time.
Last week, AEM, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and the Equipment Dealers Association made a joint announcement on behalf of their member companies. It said all major ag equipment brands would now commit to a more open approach. The pending legislative assaults against them (similar to what occurred over the years in the auto industry and what is now happening more generally across all sectors) seem to have had an impact on their thinking. In fact, the AEM/EDA announcement calls this a better alternative than potential “broader” legislation.
Manufacturers are touting this new approach as a way to accommodate the desire owners have to do their own repairs, without allowing for any ECM programming modifications. It wouldn’t allow rewriting of any code that would fundamentally affect a machine’s overall operation, or “preserving the integrity of the equipment” as a spokesman in an AEM video, describes it.
The spokesman goes on to say this new approach “strikes the right balance in a way that ‘Right to repair’ legislation would not”.
So what have the brands and dealers committed to? They say they will make parts and service manuals available, as well as “product guides”, service demonstrations, training and seminars, onboard diagnostic tools, electronic service tools along with other necessary publications. All that will be available by the year 2021.
Why not until 2021? That wasn’t made clear in the announcements I saw. But I suspect it means brands will be re-writing, or at least re-organizing the software, creating accessible and inaccessible divisions within ECMs, which would accommodate repairs but not modifications.
To take a detailed look at what’s being committed to, go to the new website r2rsolutions.org. Will it stop the mounting momentum of Right-to-repair legislation? Who knows?