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The first in a series of four blog posts on the risks and consequences of farm equipment chipping, from the Western Equipment Dealers Association.

When someone offers to tune or chip the operating software on a piece of farm equipment, to the farmer, that offer might sound too good to be true. Typically, the vendor promises to boost the performance of a tractor, combine or self-propelled sprayer, by significantly increasing its attainable horsepower, torque or groundspeed.

The chipping might cost $2,000 to $5,000 – far less than the cost of buying higher-capacity equipment. For a farmer looking to stretch his operating budget, that’s got to sound attractive.

Post-tune, the farmer is able to cover more acres in less time or pull heavier or wider implements than before. So far, chipping is performing as advertised.

Before long, however, the risks of chipping begin to show themselves and the first risk is a big one. Chipping or tuning immediately voids the equipment manufacturer’s warranty. On a newer piece of equipment, the value of that warranty could be many thousands of dollars.

From there, the second major risk of equipment chipping kicks in. If equipment is run at higher horsepower, temperature or groundspeed than it was engineered for, the integrity of the equipment will suffer over time.

When the farmer sees signs of equipment underperformance or failure, he’ll take the equipment to his local dealer for service. If it’s evident the equipment has been chipped, the dealer will regretfully inform the customer that the warranty is gone. That’s when things get expensive in a hurry.

Jason Hintze, Sales Manager of Western Sales Ltd. in Saskatchewan, explains that problems with chipped equipment typically arise around the 2,000- to 3,000-hour mark and are often seen in the transmission, rear end, and final drives. The equipment shows far more wear than it should have, given the hours of operation. In August 2018, Hintze’s shop fixed a chipped tractor engine, a repair that cost his customer $70,000.

“Everyone selling these chips are going to tell you how good it is, but there is long-term damage that’s being done to these machines,” explains Hintze. “We’re seeing it in the shops all the time. No one is telling you the problems that are coming up, like the $70,000 engine job that you’re going to do in a year or two.”