In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
You Don't Own Everything In Your Combine
Jan 04, 2010
You may own your combine, cotton picker, tractor or self-propelled sprayer, but you don't own everything in it. Manufacturers maintain ownership of diagnostic software and many other programs in any on-board computers. If you or a local non-dealership mechanic wants to access on-board diagnostics or replace system software, you'll have pay a licensed dealership to do the work.
It's a situation similar to what shadetree mechanics have wrestled with for the past decade in cars and trucks. Auto manufacturers have linked most systems in cars and trucks to on-board computers. Everything from low-tire-pressure sensors to fuel injection controllers now require expensive, often dealership-exclusive diagnostic equipment to diagnose, re-set or repair problems.
Some view this as an effort by automotive and farm equipment manufacturers to force consumers to deal only with licensed dealerships. They fear this is a concerted effort to drive non-licensed, independent mechanics out of business and make it impossible for do-it-yourselfers to do it themselves.
U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y. introduced last year the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act (HR 2057) to require vehicle manufacturers to offer neighborhood repair shops and do-it-yourselfers equal access to repair and diagnostic information. The focus of the bill--now stalled in committee--was on consumer vehicles. Its potential effects on farm equipment is unknown.
Is it right or wrong for vehicle and equipment manufacturers to keep diagnostic and other technologies to themselves? Should anybody be able to access on-board information on modern farm machinery? Does it annoy you that you can't turn off the "Check Engine" light on your pickup truck's dashboard without a trip to the dealership? Is it right that while you own the hardware, pieces and parts in your farm machinery, the equipment manufacturer still owns the actual computer programs that make it run?
I feel your pain. Until I traded pickups last summer, I drove my old Ford for six years with the "Check Engine" light glowing on the dashboard because I had done the diagnostics and knew there was nothing mechanically wrong. I simply refused to spend the money to pay a dealership--or buy an aftermarket "code reader"-- to turn the darned light off.