The Snoop – Right to Repair

We’re Michiganders turned Missourians.

Missouri has hills.
Michigan is relatively flat.
Missouri has more sunny days.
Michigan has more lakes.
Missouri gets more rain.
Michigan gets more snow.

Lots of differences, yes.

But, besides being close alphabetically, there’s another way Michigan and Missouri are similar.

Cars.

Michigan has Detroit and Cruising on Woodward Avenue. It also has The Henry Ford Museum. The Automobile Hall of Fame. The North American International Auto Show.

Missouri is the birthplace of Route 66. The National Museum of Transportation. Assembly plants for both Ford and Chevy.

Both states have an active community of automotive enthusiasts. From Jeep lovers installing lifts and winches, to street rod choppers and channelers, to muscle car big block swappers, to import tuners, Michigan and Missouri residents love their automobiles.

I didn’t grow up hunting or playing sports. But our family did turn wrenches. I’ve lowered cars, lifted Jeeps, swapped engines, rebuilt transfer cases, and done complete rewires.

All on older vehicles.

And if I did some of those things to a new car, I might run afoul of the law.

Laws that govern automotive modifications aren’t new. In Michigan, for example, I couldn’t lengthen the spring shackles on my Jeep more than 2” over stock. Or lift it so much that the frame was more than 24” off the ground.

But new cars are presenting another obstacle for people who want to repair or modify them.

Because, according to manufacturers like John Deere and GM, you don’t actually own that car or tractor you just thought you bought.

Instead, you have a “license to use” it. Like software. Which makes a bit of sense, given how computerized equipment like cars and tractors are these days. Any given vehicle has dozens of computer systems making adjustments to engines, drivetrain, or suspension.

And the manufacturer wants you to keep your hands off those systems. Your “license to use” is not a “license to tinker.” John Deere would see changing the code on your tractor as a violation of their software copyright.

And the point is, as you might expect, money. The John Deeres and GMs of the world want to be like Apple. They want any repairs to be made at corporate-owned locations. And they want to charge prices not determined by the free market.

There are efforts in the marketplace to fight this and give vehicle and equipment owners the “right to repair” the equipment they own. 

And there has been some success.

In 2018, Right to repair proponents successfully lobbied the US Copyright Office to allow consumers to ‘jailbreak’ technology like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home families, to bypass access protections on smartphones, and “the right to modify the software of a legally-owned motorised land vehicle, including tractors which had previously been locked down by manufacturers.”

But not all equipment was covered in the exception. Owners of airplanes, boats, and gaming consoles are out of luck. And the exception is only for restoring “works in accordance with its original specification”. 

So no modifications.

The fight continues. 20 states (including Missouri) have proposed “Right to repair” legislation within recent years. So far only Massachusetts has passed a “Automotive Right to Repair” bill. Other legislation efforts have been largely quashed by lobbying groups funded by the likes of Apple, GM, and John Deere.

Right to repair has become a presidential plank. Senator Elizabeth Warren says she plans to introduce federal legislation to give farm equipment owners the right to repair farm equipment, with the possibility of expanding the law to other electronic devices.

So what to do? Visit repair.org or ifixit.com/Right-to-Repair to learn more. 

And if you own any pre-1980 farm equipment, hang onto it. Values are increasing. According to a recent article on StarTribune.com, “A 1980 John Deere 4440 with 2,147 hours on it sold for $43,500 at a farm estate auction in Lake City in April. A 1979 John Deere 4640 with only 826 hours on it sold for $61,000 at an auction in Bingham Lake in August.

As of the new year, both my vehicles are now over 20 years old. Maybe staying old school pays off after all?