Is agriculture the new right to repair frontier?

Cathy Findley, on behalf of Right to Repair SA
Published: 31 July 2023

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By this stage most South Africans would have heard something about the Guidelines for Competition in the South African Automotive Aftermarket or the consumer’s right to repair, a term more commonly used. But there is still a lot of uncertainty out there in terms of what exactly the guidelines cover and which vehicles they apply to.

These guidelines apply to ‘any vehicle designed or adapted for propulsion or haulage on a road by means of fuel, gas or electricity or any other means’. Excitingly, this means that not only domestic motor cars are covered by the guidelines. Motorbikes, commercial vehicles and agricultural vehicles that can be driven on the road, are covered as well.

The agricultural sector is an exciting space at the moment, particularly in light of the recent global developments where Colorado is the newest state to assert the Consumer Right to Repair­ Agricultural Equipment Bill, which was signed on 25 April by Governor Jared Polis. This will make sure producers aren’t held captive to manufacturers and that producers’ rights are protected so they can choose how they repair their equipment and that work is completed in a timely manner.

It is clear that around the world, price and time are major issues when it comes to servicing and repairing agricultural equipment. According to Kate Elliott, CEO of Right to Repair SA, South African producers are lucky as the required legislation is already in place to protect their right to choose their service providers (in the form of the Competition Act). ‘There is no reason why the principles contained in the guidelines cannot also be applied to all agricultural equipment, including standing agricultural equipment that cannot be self-propelled,’ she says.

Bearing this in mind, it is worthwhile for those in the agricultural sector to familiarise themselves with the guidelines and potentially lobby for the Competition Commission to give specific reference to agricultural equipment. Here are the four main things one needs to know about the guidelines:

  • You have the right to choose your service provider
    Independent service providers can now service and perform maintenance on vehicles (including tractors) both during the in-warranty period and after. You may choose to service your vehicle at the dealer from whom you purchased your vehicle or you can elect to shop around for the best possible price and service quality. When shopping around, you need to ensure that you only consider workshops that:
  • have fully qualified mechanics;
  • have adequate commercial insurance in place (to cover an instance where they make a mistake or fit a faulty part resulting in a portion of your warranty to be voided); and
  • that always follow manufacturer specifications and record all work performed in your vehicle’s service book.
  • Your warranty is protected no matter which service provider you choose
    Previously, motor manufacturers would void the warranty if a vehicle was not serviced at the dealership. The Competition Commission has now declared this practice as incompatible with the Competition Act. You are now entitled to take your tractor to the service provider of your choice and we are of the opinion that this should also apply to all farming equipment and not just self-propelled equipment.
  • You are entitled to use non-original spare parts
    With cost always being an issue, the good news is that consumers can now shop around. You are entitled to use non-original spare parts (for example oil filters) in your vehicle during your vehicle’s in-warranty period and manufacturers are not entitled to void your warranty. It is no different to selecting a generic antibiotic – the same, just more cost effective.
  • Unbundling of service/maintenance plans from the price of a vehicle
    When you buy a vehicle, vehicle retailers are now obliged to provide you with separate prices for your vehicle and for any value-added products that they might have on offer such as service and maintenance plans. Car retailers are also obliged to sell you a new vehicle without a service or maintenance plan if you do not wish to purchase one.
  • Independent service providers have the right to technical information
    Independent service providers now have the right to technical repair and maintenance information from manufacturers in order to enable them to diagnose, repair and service vehicles (including tractors). This includes access to specialised tools and equipment and training from the manufacturers. In short, independent service providers are entitled to any information/tools etc. that they require in order to repair and maintain vehicles.

At the end of the day the guidelines and the Competition Act are there to support consumer choice, fair competition and competitive pricing and do not countenance arbitrary distinctions such as whether a machine can be driven on the road or not.

We urge those in the agricultural sector to exercise your right to repair. Take your bakkies and tractors to your local (reliable) service providers for servicing and repairs and push for formal recognition of your right to choose your service providers for the repair and maintenance of all of your equipment.

Contact Jacqui Moloi with any queries on 071 764 8233 or email jacqui@findleypr.co.za.

Grain SA takes note of the rights of consumers as outlined by the Right to Repair movement. We support competition in the mechanisation industry to keep costs for Grain SA members as low as possible. However, it is important to still deal responsibly with vehicles that are still under warranty.
– Corné Louw, Applied Economics and Member Services lead, Grain SA