Calls this week for the EPA to investigate John Deere for violations of the Clean Air Act highlight language in the landmark environmental law that seem to enshrine owner and independent service and repair of “non-road engines” like those found in agricultural and heavy equipment. Also: a guy added a USB C charger to his AirPods. Now you can, too!
Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.
The Big News
For years, the Clean Air Act has been a pillar of anti–right to repair arguments by automobile manufacturers and heavy equipment makers. That sounds funny, given that makers of industrial machinery aren’t usually on the front lines of protecting the environment. But it’s true.
In hearing after hearing in statehouses across the U.S., lobbyists for industry groups like the Equipment Dealers Association (EDA) as well as owners of agricultural equipment dealers have warned of the dire risks should ordinary equipment owners or “unauthorized” (that is, independent) repair professionals get their hands on diagnostic and repair tools that control the levers of emissions control systems designed to satisfy the Clean Air Act and prevent harmful pollution. Stopping right to repair laws that would provide access to such tools and information is tantamount to saving the environment and keeping our air clear of smog and pollution, they argue.
But the “concern” about emissions violations goes way beyond words uttered in a legislative hearing. Equipment makers like John Deere have instituted crippling controls—dubbed “limp mode”—on much of their advanced farm machinery, ostensibly to prevent violations of federal emissions standards. When triggered by even a single, balky sensor, limp mode can render an $800,000 harvester or tractor all but useless. Farmers must then wait for authorized Deere service technicians to attend to it, clearing any error codes and replacing balky sensors before the equipment can be returned to service. As I noted, this is the equivalent of having your car immediately slow to a maximum speed of 5 MPH while also disabling the power steering and climate controls any time the “Check Engine” light is illuminated.
But what if the opposite was true? What if the Clean Air Act—far from justifying draconian restrictions on owner and independent service and repair—actually supported both?
That contention is at the heart of a complaint by two leading groups promoting the right to repair: the Repair Coalition (repair.org) and US PIRG. On Thursday, the two groups issued a joint call for the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether agricultural equipment maker John Deere was in violation of the Clean Air Act for limiting farmers’ access to emission control systems on its equipment, and whether the company has been lying to federal regulators for years regarding its compliance with federal rules.
Did Anyone Read the Manual?
The crux of the argument is language in federal Clean Air Act regulations regarding the maintenance obligations that makers of “non-road engines” (which includes agricultural equipment) have to buyers. A section of those regulations titled “Source of parts and repairs” instructs manufacturers of non-road engines to “state clearly in your written maintenance instructions that a repair shop or person of the owner’s choosing may maintain, replace, or repair emission-control devices and systems.”
Further, manufacturers are told that “your instructions may not require components or service identified by brand, trade, or corporate name. Also, do not directly or indirectly condition your warranty on a requirement that the engine be serviced by your franchised dealers or any other service establishments with which you have a commercial relationship.”
Deere appears to be violating those rules. First, the company restricts access to its Service ADVISOR software, which is used to maintain and calibrate equipment. Emissions modules needed to monitor and calibrate emissions systems are not included in the customer edition of Service ADVISOR, which Deere licenses to end users.
John Deere 870 Oil Change
Change your tractor's engine oil and filter…
(More) Bad News for John Deere
Research by Repair.org found that just 12 of 150 manuals included the required language asserting repair-friendly practices, iFixit noted. That could be a big problem for Deere, the $95 billion agricultural equipment giant. The company has to certify compliance with the provisions of the Clean Air Act annually for each covered product, but a cursory review of the company’s practices suggests that those certifications may be inaccurate.
“John Deere is breaking the law and squeezing farmers every day,” said Repair.org Board Member Willie Cade, who conducted the research. “Deere has been locking farmers out of their own tractors while reporting that farmers have full repair choice. This monopolistic practice is not just anti-farmer—it’s anti-American. EPA should figure out exactly what is happening and take corrective action to stop it.”
The EPA has declined to comment, saying it does not comment on “potential or ongoing enforcement actions.”
For right to repair advocates, the revelation that the Clean Air Act—which is typically invoked as a brake on pro-consumer right to repair laws—may actually extend right to repair protections for a range of heavy equipment is a revelation.
“I’ve watched as Deere representatives have told legislators in statehouses across the country they have to restrict farmers’ ability to fix their own equipment in order to abide by emissions regulations,” said PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director Kevin O’Reilly. “Based on the Repair.org findings, it looks like Deere might be the one blowing smoke.”
Stay tuned for more on this!
Apple EarPods were standard issue with iPhones…
Engineering and robotics student Ken Pillonel has sought to address some of AirPods’ repairability issues with a 3D-printed replacement casing and switching the Lightning charging port for a USB-C port.
As a standard port, USB-C on AirPods increases the possibility of long-term repairability, Pillonel suggests. Pillonel is also responsible for similar modifications that added a USB-C port to the iPhone and a Lightning port to a Samsung Galaxy A51. Pillonel’s 3D printing files and PCB files for AirPods repairability are available for free on his website, and he is considering selling kits in the future depending on interest.
Impending EU legislation will force Apple to switch AirPods to USB-C by late 2024 and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple could make the change sometime after releasing the first iPhone models with a USB-C port next year.
A slimmed-down version of an electronics right to repair bill passed the state senate in Massachusetts on Thursday, part of a larger economic development bill. It is the latest success for right to repair advocates, who last month saw New York’s legislature pass a broad electronics right to repair bill.
The Massachusetts Senate approved a Right to Repair amendment last night as part of a package of amendments to a larger economic development package. The fate of the amendment now rests in negotiations between the Massachusetts House and Senate over the scope of a final, compromise bill that would be voted on by both chambers.
The amendment, #471, would create a legal right to repair “portable wireless devices” in Massachusetts. Portable wireless devices are defined in the amendment as “a product which includes a battery, microphone, speaker and display designed to send and receive transmissions through a cellular radiotelephone service.”
The amendment represents a compromise by right to repair supporters, who had been pushing broader right to repair legislation in both the State Senate and House of Representatives that would cover a broader range of electronic devices. (Fight to Repair)
Agricultural equipment maker John Deere said in March that it would be expanding access to self-repair resources including its Service ADVISOR diagnostic software. Nearly four months later, however, customers and independent repair professionals say little has changed, with all but the most common fixes still contingent on the cooperation of a John Deere authorized repair provider.
(Fight to Repair)
Much work around the right to repair so far has focused on the physical—the way products are put together, the availability of spare parts, or access to tools to fix our devices. However, at a time when almost everything we buy is getting ‘smarter,’ it’s increasingly indispensable to think about the intangible elements of our devices, from eReaders to tractors.
Software and repair information can be essential for making things ‘tick,’ or bringing them back to life when they stop working. Yet they are covered by rules that can give their creators extensive and long-lasting powers that can pose challenges to those who want to repair, tinker, modify, and improve. We need software to run our devices, including carrying out necessary updates, but it can also be a source of problems when it comes to product longevity.
In short, it is not only possible but also necessary to address situations where the design of rules around copyright and software leads to the inadvertent consequence of limiting rights to repair. Action in these areas—protection against override by contract terms, possibilities to remove or circumvent digital locks, and reasonable access to repair manuals—deserves to have its place in any future legislation in this field.
Russia’s competition watchdog said it would fine tech giant Apple for violating Russian antitrust laws and abusing its dominant position in the app store market. The federal anti-monopoly service (FAS) said it would levy a turnover-based fine against Apple, the size of which would be determined during the course of an administrative investigation.
Moscow has long objected to foreign tech platforms’ influence in the Russian market, but the simmering dispute has escalated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
“The company has abused its dominant position in the iOS app distribution market,” the FAS said in a statement.
“Apple prohibits iOS app developers from telling clients inside the app about the possibility of paying for purchases outside the App Store or using alternative payment methods.”
Moscow has hit Western firms with a string of fines for violating internet laws that critics say are an attempt by the Kremlin to exert more control over the online space.