Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

24.4.2020 Fairfax Tech Talk Column 195


The first car I owned was a V8 253 Holden HZ Ute - although I am ignoring my brother’s VC Valiant which he accused me of borrowing so often that I thought I owned it! I had gained most of my mechanical skills working on motorbikes as I was growing up but, after having owned the HZ for a number of years and visiting auto-wreckers around the nation, I was well and truly acquainted with the inner workings of the 253 (and the Valiant).

In our modern world, it is unlikely that I would have been allowed to touch either vehicle as I certainly wasn’t an authorised repairer – but that may be about to change with the help of some Aussie farmers.

There is a ‘Right to Repair’ movement that has been gathering momentum around the world. The general logic from a manufacturer of high-tech equipment is that only the manufacturer (or authorised repairers) has the technical skill and know-how to repair their equipment. Consequently, organisations around the world work hard to gain ‘authorised repairer’ status for a variety of manufacturers. It isn’t quite a monopoly, but if you perform repairs yourself or use someone other than an authorised repairer, your warranty will be null and void. It tends to fly in the face of open competition.

The ‘Right to Repair’ concept started in the automotive industry in the US when Massachusetts passed the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act in 2012. It took six years for the automobile trade organisations across the US to finally sign a memorandum that said they would provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles.

You may remember a similar process last year that focused on mobile phones and electronics in general. The trigger was battery replacement in modern smartphones. Many phones were being replaced and ending up in landfill for no other reason than the fact that the battery life had diminished to the point where the phone was not useful. Replacing a battery would not only void the warranty but, in some cases, render the phone useless.

The change in laws for electronics would not only allow products to be repaired but would require manufacturers to make products that could easily be repaired.

Enter the good old Aussie farmer. The simple tractor is not so simple any more. They can cost close to a million dollars and with GPS and self-driving technology along with soil monitoring, they are a sophisticated technological masterpiece. That sometimes breaks down. When they do break down, the farmers are held to ransom – both in terms of time and money – by the authorised repairers of the manufacturer.

The ACCC has been brought in to help with the battle and an inquiry has started. Farmers will have the chance to put their case forward to be able to choose who repairs their equipment – including the option of themselves. Despite manufacturers saying that they are prepared to play the game, independent repairers still complain that they don’t have access to parts or information to be able to carry out repairs.

It can even drill down to the ownership of the data. With information recorded by farmers trying to maximise the efficiency of their operation, a change of manufacturer may render historical data useless – effectively locking a farmer into one brand forever.

Keep an eye out for our farmers making changes to the way technology is developed and repaired across the world – with a little help from the ACCC.

Tell me if you think the HZ or the Valiant was a better car at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson