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Don’t let Right to Repair be put out to pasture

The recent agreement between John Deere on sharing repair information with farmers is a sign the aftermarket might have manufacturers thinking

On the face of it, it looks like farm equipment manufacturer John Deere and longtime opponent of Right to Right has finally come around. The American Farm Bureau Federation announced on Sunday that it has reached an agreement with the manufacturer that promises independent repair shops and farmers the ability to service John Deere’s equipment.

The federation shouldn’t be fooled.

Rob Merwin, Aftermarket Matters publisher

It all sounds great and good. But why now? Maybe it’s because legislation for Right to Repair is gaining momentum with legislators, state and federal. That the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between John Deere and farmers just happened now is suspicious, according to some Right to Repair advocates.

“The timing of this new agreement is no accident,” Kevin O’Reilly, a director of the Right to Repair campaign run by the US Public Interest Research Group, a grassroots lobbying organization, told Wired Magazine. “This could be part of an effort to take the wind out of the sails of right-to-repair legislation.”

While John Deere’s agreement with farmers and independent repair shops promises access to repair information to service its equipment, it is non-binding, and either party can pull out of the agreement at any time. It’s a handshake — to the benefit of John Deere. It also doesn’t state how much the manufacturer will charge for that information and diagnostic abilities. And though it says farmers have the ability to replace sensors, for example, John Deere remains mum on whether it will allow farmers the know-how to reprogram them. In addition, under the MOU, the company can also protect its proprietary trade information that prevents users overriding equipment safety features.

The farming industry shouldn’t be duped by this false olive branch, nor should the automotive aftermarket if automakers attempt to play a similar hand.

The automotive aftermarket — and consumers — as it’s been well documented, have been facing its own challenges with automakers in receiving OEM repair information for years. But similar to legislators showing increasing support for the farming industry, so, too, are lawmakers for the aftermarket.

As I reported toward the end of last year, this new Congress might represent the aftermarket’s best chance of getting a national Right to Repair bill passed, according to these association leaders:

“We have momentum, and the new Congress is a new opportunity to get the numbers for the support we need,” said Paul McCarthy, MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers president and CEO.

It was stressed that 2023 and 2024 are the years to get a national Right to Repair legislation accomplished. “We’re seeing a growing awareness of officials on state and federal levels that this is an important consumer issue,” said Ann Wilson, MEMA, the Vehicle Suppliers Association, senior vice president of Government Affairs.

She added that her primary concern is that if federal legislation isn’t passed in this new Congress, then the aftermarket will have missed its best chance, as there is a growing groundswell of support for Right to Repair legislation in other industries (consumer electronics, appliances, etc.) that the automotive aftermarket must attach itself to — otherwise, it will be a missed opportunity. “This is the time for us to act and get it done.”

And as the 2022 mid-term election results have left the Democrats maintaining control of the Senate and Republicans taking the House, both with razor-thin majorities, one thing appears certain — efforts to keep Right to Repair legislation moving forward continues to gather momentum.

“Right to Repair is a very bipartisan issue, and it has elements that appeal to both Republicans and Democrats — and certainly broad industry support,” Lisa Foshee, SVP, Government Affairs and General Counsel for the Auto Care Association, told me.

Tom Tucker, Senior Director of State Affairs for the Auto Care Association, was quick to add, “Right to Repair isn’t a buzzword — it’s a movement that has been championed by the aftermarket and other industries are following our lead.

“We have a path forward.”

Good news, and I know these folks won’t let it get plowed over.

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