Which is cheaper: to fix equipment on the farm or transport it to the dealership for repairs?
Cell phones and remote diagnostics are changing the equipment maintenance process. When a piece of machinery is in need of repair, is it more economical to haul it to the nearest shop or have a mechanic come to the farm?
The answer depends on the machine, the type of repair and several other variables. The biggest and most costly factor is time.
"If it’s a tractor that just needs a water pump, that’s a single repair that can be accomplished with predictable parts in one trip," says Chad Stoline, corporate service manager for the Van Wall Group, a John Deere dealership in central Iowa. "A service call is the perfect solution in that situation.
"If you’re looking at off-season inspection and maintenance for a combine with 3,000 or 4,000 hours," Stoline explains, "it’s a no-brainer to get that machine to the dealership shop because it’s going to take three or four days, which would mean multiple trips for the mechanic. The time a mechanic spends traveling to and from a machine is part of what makes service calls more expensive."
Dealerships are offering incentives, including discounted haul rates in the off-season, for farmers to prioritize preventive maintenance.
Cost effective? In general, customers pay a dealership’s standard hourly shop rate from the time the mechanic leaves the dealership until he or she returns, along with a fee to cover fuel and vehicle expense. Anything that adds to the length or complexity of the service call, such as a return to the dealership for additional parts or tools, rapidly adds to the total cost of the repairs.
Because in-shop repairs tend to be more cost effective, many farmers find there is value in paying to have their tractors hauled to a repair shop. Lang Diesel, an AGCO and Challenger dealership in Hays, Kan., charges $5 per loaded mile to haul tractors to their shop.
"We really emphasize preventive maintenance," says Gabe Flaska, Lang service manager. "To
encourage that, if they send the tractor for off-season preventive maintenance and repair, we’ll haul it for half price. Not having to pay for the mechanic’s fuel and driving time for a couple trips back and forth to the farm usually saves more than the cost of trucking."
Large combines and tractors with dual or triple wheels that are awkward to haul to the dealership often lead to hybrid repair strategies.
"We have two fully-equipped trucks with cranes," explains Scott McDaniel, service manager at Vetter Equipment, a central Iowa Case IH dealer.
"There’s a trend to pull the broken engine or transmission out of the machine on the farm and bring it to the shop. That lets us rebuild the engine or transmission in controlled conditions and saves the customer from having to bring the machine to the shop," McDaniel says.
A quicker response. Some circumstances eliminate the option of transporting all or part of the broken machine to a shop and mandate fast on-farm repairs.
"Places such as dairies don’t have days off or an off-season," Stoline says. "So any repair to their machinery is pretty much all mobile service."
The same theory applies to mowers or balers that go down in the middle of a hay field with rain in the forecast or a planter that quits just as thunder clouds loom on the horizon. In that case, the customer has to work with the dealership to determine what’s wrong with the machine, what parts the technician will need to bring and the best way to get it fixed as quickly as possible.
Expert inspection. Sometimes it takes a mechanic’s eye and experience to fully evaluate the situation.
"If we can’t determine over the phone what’s wrong and whether it’s better to fix it on the farm or in the shop, we’ll send a tech to inspect it," says Matt Guerrero, service manager at Stotz Equipment, a John Deere dealer in Casa Grande, Ariz. "The service tech then makes the call on whether it’s too big of a job to do in the field or if it needs to be done in the dealership shop.
"If they know they can fix it correctly in the field, they will," Guerrero says. "But if there’s a risk of compromising a $15,000 or $20,000 engine or transmission job because the machine is out in the middle of a dusty field, or because they won’t know exactly what parts they’ll need until they get it torn apart, they’re going to want it in the shop so they can do the best work possible in the least amount of time."
You can e-mail Dan Anderson at email@example.com.
In the Shop Blog
As a farm machinery mechanic by day and a writer by night, Dan Anderson brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for farmers to understand. Read his advice and tips straight from the shop at www.FarmJournal.com/In_the_Shop.