Farmer Says Dealer Won’t Fix His Tractor Until He Files FTC Complaint

State of Repair is Motherboard’s exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces that struggle to lock down access to the things you own.

A Missouri farmer said he had to complain to the Federal Trade Commission in order to have his tractor repaired by the only John Deere dealership in his area, showing how, without the right to repair, farmers are bound by the whims of corporations with monopoly repairs.

Jared Wilson had a problem with the air conditioning on his John Deere tractor. It wasn’t working and he had to finish planting his corn and soybeans. The tractor would work, but finishing the plant would be a miserable experience in the Missouri spring heat. According to an affidavit Wilson filed with the FTC, he called the local John Deere dealership and requested an appointment. The manager told him he didn’t want his business.

In the FTC’s complaint, Wilson asks the commission to open a consumer protection investigation.

Wilson and the director spoke on April 14, according to an affidavit regarding the incident filed with the FTC on April 16. Wilson told Motherboard he didn’t know the air conditioning had turned off until temperatures started to climb in April. “When it hits 70 degrees it’s almost unbearable inside the cabin because it’s all glass and you have a super hot engine sitting in front of you,” he said.

Knowing he would never make it through the rest of his factory without some cooling in the tractor, he called his local John Deere dealership: Heritage Tractor. He had the manager on the phone. According to Wilson’s affidavit, the manager said, “I was not a ‘profitable customer’ because of my repeated complaints about the repair service and written notices to John Deere headquarters regarding my dissatisfaction with the regard to Heritage Tractor repair services. »

According to the affidavit, Wilson felt the manager’s words were “a veiled threat that if I continued to complain to ‘outsiders’ about my displeasure with Heritage Tractor, I couldn’t or wouldn’t.” no longer allow [sic] Heritage Tractor repair assistance in the future.

Wilson is a strong advocate for the right of farmers to repair their tractors. It is testified about it in the Missouri State House, summer interviewed by NBC Newsand is named by name in a complaint to the FTC.

That’s a lot of drama for a farmer to deal with. But Wilson is a fifth-generation farmer whose family has used John Deere for decades. He likes the product, but he doesn’t like their repair restrictions and he doesn’t particularly like Heritage Tractor. But Heritage Tractor is the only reasonably close repair shop, according to the affidavit.

Heritage Tractor did not respond to two requests for comment, including a detailed list of questions. John Deere did not respond to a request for comment on the affidavit.

When Wilson started farming in 2013, there were three different repair shops within 30 minutes of his farm. Now there’s only one: Heritage Tractor, the store Wilson is constantly at odds with.

There are independent repairers, but they are all very busy. “I just spoke to one of the few independent repairmen around, one who used to work at Heritage, and he said he still had a few more weeks before he could work on anything new,” Wilson said. “If I were to go to another Deere facility, you’re talking about 80 miles from where I am.”

Moving a massive tractor 80 miles is what Wilson called a “Herculean task.” He would have to haul it along highways, remove the wheels so it could fit in a haul, and pass the time hauling the machine back and forth. It’s not feasible, especially not affordable or fast. So he’s stuck with Heritage Tractor, a company he says didn’t want his business.

Much of this wouldn’t be a problem if Wilson could fix his own machines, but John Deere took care of make this very difficult, if not impossible. “I think what gets a bit lost in this is that it’s not just about ‘Can I fix it without all this information?’ It’s, ‘Can I diagnose what the problem really is?’ “, he said. “Any software related to the controller, we just don’t have any tools for it.

John Deere tractors require special tools which its official technicians have access to and which they will not sell to farmers. According to Wilson, all the other major tractor manufacturers followed suit and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t use a different brand because they all work according to John Deere’s playbook. “It’s an oligopoly and John Deere is the market leader by far,” Wilson said.

After some back and forth and an affidavit filed with the FTC about the fight, Wilson said Heritage Tractor relented and agreed to send someone to examine Wilson’s tractor. But it’s still a fight and he’s had enough. Worse, it costs him money. “Farmers are losing profitably, even with the addition of this technology,” Wilson said. “Because the resulting additional cost compresses our margin.”

Wilson said he’s grateful for the technology because it means he doesn’t have to shell corn by hand like his grandfather. “Now I’m sitting in a 543 horsepower combine with a connection to an overhead satellite,” he said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean I make more money. It just means that somebody earn more money.

Farmers are at the forefront of the right to repair movement. The FTC is in the early stages of investigating the company about its repair practices. Meanwhile, John Deere shareholders have demanded answers on the matter and the company asked the SEC for an exemption from answering questions.

The right to repair movement is gaining momentum in the United States. The FTC has formally adopted a pro-right to repair position, President Biden has supported the issue, and even companies like Apple are slowly allowing customers to fix their own phones. John Deere stands firm in a changing world.

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