Service Obstructor: John Deere software restricts farmer repair

John Deere repair software falls short of providing a Right to Repair

By promising repair software that removes or obfuscates necessary repair functions, John Deere’s Memorandum of Understanding fails to give farmers a true Right to Repair.

Right to Repair advocate Kevin O'Reilly and a mechanic look at Deere's software repair tools on a laptop connected to a green tractor
Staff | TPIN
Deere's exclusive software tools lock farmers out of necessary repair functions.
PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director speaks at a podium in front of a National Farmers Union backdrop.
Kevin O'Reilly

Former Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Facing restricted access to the software tools needed to fix their tractors, farmers across the country have joined the years-long campaign for Right to Repair. Such reforms would guarantee farmers and independent mechanics comprehensive access to all of the materials needed to fix modern agricultural equipment—including parts, documentation and physical and software tools—at a fair and reasonable price. In doing so, Right to Repair would restore repair choice for U.S. food producers, saving them an estimated $4.2 billion per year in avoided downtime and repair costs.

As public pressure mounted and Right to Repair legislation was considered in Congress and waves of states, the American Farm Bureau Federation and tractor-makers such as John Deere issued Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) that purported to address the issue.

These agreements, however, fail to fully fix the problem of agricultural repair restrictions. These agreements do not provide farmers who face repair restrictions with opportunity for legal recourse and allow manufacturers to walk away from the agreements with as little as 15 days’ notice.

John Deere repair software restricts access to Right to Repair information and capabilities

Most notably, the repair materials promised in the MOUs are not comprehensive. U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s comparison of the software tools provided to farmers to those provided to Deere-affiliated dealerships found that the publicly-available tool withholds, redacts or obfuscates functions and information required to independently complete many repairs. As such, industry agreements do not provide farmers with full fixing freedom.

One month after Deere’s MOU went into effect, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and other repair advocates compared Customer Service ADVISOR (SA) with the version provided to dealer-affiliated technicians. To the extent that we were able to review features of the two versions, we found that the customer tool lacks key functionalities.

Deere’s Customer Service ADVISOR withholds diagnostic information

Basic information needed to identify problems with equipment that is readily provided by the dealer tool is either withheld or difficult to find for independent fixers.

Dealer-level SA includes a basic explanation of the ECU-related code: that the DEF tank fluid level signal is slightly low.

Photo by STAFF | TPIN

When accessing the same screen through Customer SA, that basic description is redacted.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

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Farmers have to search for information that dealers can access in one click

Dealer-level SA provides links to step-by-step troubleshooting guides and information on the primary Diagnostics screen that are not present in the Customer SA tool. Additionally, databases such as Dealer Technician Assistance Center (DTAC) that contain troubleshooting and repair information on manufacturing defects are not included in the materials promised by the MOUs.

Dealers can click a link to access the appropriate page in the electronic manual.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

The version of the software available to farmers does not provide independent fixers with those links.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

Farmers searching for those links will be faced with multiple pages to choose from. In this case, they won't get to the same page as the dealer until the third link.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

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Farmers cannot digitally authorize mechanical repairs. Deere dealer technicians can.

Many parts must be electronically paired to modern tractors, much in the way that the installation of a driver is necessary to allow a computer to communicate with a printer. Deere calls these drivers “payload files” and they can only be installed or “reprogrammed” through dealer-level SA.

Dealer technicians can "reprogram" or digitally authorize mechanical repairs through the Reprogramming tile in dealer-level Service ADVISOR.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

Farmers don't have access to the same function, meaning they have to call—and pay—a dealer technician to digitally authorize mechanical repairs.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

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Any “solution” that fails to allow a farmer or independent mechanic to fully diagnose, troubleshoot and electronically authorize mechanical repairs falls short of a true Right to Repair fix. For this reason, along with the other problems of the MOUs listed above, lawmakers and other stakeholders who are being told that existing voluntary agreements are sufficient should examine our findings to improve their understanding of why the MOUs have not altered farmers’ desire for enforceable legislation


Kevin O'Reilly

Former Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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