photo: John Deere

Modern John Deere tractors are outfitted with dozens of sensors and computers, many of which cannot be serviced by owners because of a stupid licensing agreement John Deere forces upon its customers. Since farmers have neither the time nor money to waste on a technician’s visit, some are taking matters into their own hands with eastern European software hacks, Vice’s Motherboard reports.

This all comes back to John Deere’s refusal to grant diagnostic and service information to owners, instead forcing them to sign a licensing agreement which basically requires them to have an “authorized” John Deere rep come out to their farm to have a look at the problem. Motherboard spoke with farmer Kevin Kenney, who described what a typical John Deere tractor service, saying:

You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.

This sounds like a bit of a nightmare, as if you own any vehicle, you should have every right to repair it. In fact, that’s one of the main tenets of the Right To Repair movement. And John Deere’s statement to Motherboard agrees, saying:

When a customer buys John Deere equipment, he or she owns the equipment...As the owner, he or she has the ability to maintain and repair the equipment. The customer also has the ability through operator and service manuals and other resources to enable operational, maintenance, service and diagnostics activities to repair and maintain equipment.

But executive director of Repair.org told the news site she thinks that statement is “crap,” going on to say:

[John Deere requires] buyers to accept an End User License Agreement that disallows all of the activities they say are allowed in their statement...Deere is a monopolist and has systematically taken over the role of equipment owner, despite having been paid fairly and fully for equipment

So clearly there’s quite a bit of drama associated with maintenance and repair of modern John Deere equipment. So much so, Motherboard says, there’s a network of farmers who—as a response to John Deere’s locks on ECU reading functions—has gone about obtaining “cracked” software from countries in eastern Europe like Poland and Ukraine.

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This software, the site says, is available only on “invite-only, paid online forums,” and allows farmers to connect the ECU to a laptop, calibrate different engine parameters, diagnose broken components, modify speed limits, and a whole bunch more.

The eastern European black market workaround, as seemingly remote as it is, shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Farmers—as I’ve learned while fixing my farm Jeep—are among the most resourceful people on the planet.