YouTube is a medium where mostly interesting people share mostly interesting things like cat fail videos and safe-for-work porn. However, there are certain outlets that give advice on certain automotive topics, namely the popular Scotty Kilmer channel, that you should take with a nearly lethal dosage of salt. Here’s why.
Scotty Kilmer, currently, is a YouTube personality that gives automotive advice, but in a previous life, he worked on cars, wrote books about working on and buying cars, and won an Emmy Award for hosting Car Talk on CBS in the mid ‘90s, all things you could learn by going to his website, also known as The Page That Time Forgot.
It’s important to note that anytime someone calls themselves an unequivocal expert in a field that is constantly changing with near-exponential rates of technological advancements, it’s difficult, if not outright impossible to take them seriously since the rate at which new information and methods are put out is faster than any person, regardless of experience, can realistically digest it. If someone in the ‘80s told you that they had 20 years of experience with computing, would it give them an upper hand on the quickly evolving computing marketplace in the ‘90s and ‘00s, or would it just be something that they’d recount to their drinking buddies in their half-built man-cave while complaining about “fuckin’ kids nowadays?”
I’ll give you an example of this erroneous and fallacy-laden “get off my lawn” mentality in a video entitled “Why Not To Buy A Mercedes,” or the antithesis of pretty much every article I’ve ever written. Let’s delve into a quick analysis, shall we?
First, Kilmer patronizes any potential viewer by telling us, the regular folk, that only fancypants millionaires who can’t be bothered to clean out their ashtrays and need the shiniest new toy every two years can afford a Mercedes because it’s just impossible to keep on the road unless you’re a spitting image of Scrooge McDuck. He then points to a non-descript order from a Mercedes dealer, totaling nearly a thousand dollars for doing what’s essentially an oil and fuel filter change. Here’s the thing - dealers, especially luxury dealers will always be expensive with out-of-warranty repairs because they’re priced for the customers who could afford the cars new, not the second or third owners that bought them at a depreciated cost.
To offset this cost, a great alternative to dealers’ service departments is to hire independent shops to do the work at a fraction of the dealer’s costs, and to use trusted aftermarket or rebuilt OEM parts, a notion he points out himself, obliterating his previous assertion that cars made by the luxury automaker are prohibitively expensive to maintain. It’s absolutely hilarious, at least, to my non-expert eyes, that Kilmer encourages people to give him faulty cars to work on, then makes not one, but two YouTube videos on how their luxury car purchase was such a bad idea because the car is so faulty. Not only that, Kilmer makes the remark that three out of four of his Mercedes customers are so infantile and incompetent that they don’t even know what half of the buttons do. This is truly Emmy Award winning stuff here, people.
He puts the car on a scanner and comes up with a few faults - one for a trunk light, and another for the washer fluid level, asking sarcastically “ Do you really want a car that tells you that there’s a problem with the wiring to the light inside the trunk?”
Why, yes. Yes, I do. As cars get more complicated, they get easier to diagnose with use of module scanners. This means that cars can store important information that can save you money by saving the mechanic the time required in diagnosing the problem and ordering parts that may not work for the issue at hand.
The washer fluid light is another one of Kilmer’s astute observations, reciting what the scanner tells him - that the trouble code should be cleared if no problems are present, claiming that “even the computer knows that it’s giving out squirrely advice!” Oh, the irony. Here’s the reality: t he washer fluid tank occasionally runs dry, and must be refilled. When it’s dry, running the pump without any fluid heats up the pump, as washer fluid is actually used to cool the pump’s electric motor. If it heats up too much, it can seize in the worst case, or blow a fuse in the best case. Either scenario causes a trouble code. If it cools down enough to work again, then the correct course of action is to simply refill the tank and clear the code, exactly what the computer told him to do. This can happen on any other car, the difference being that a Mercedes would be able to diagnose this problem, and you’d essentially be on the hook for figuring out the issue in a less technologically complex car.
It’s not rocket science, and a person that yells at everyone with ferocity that he has 47 years of experience should probably know this. There’s no need to condescendingly pontificate about why everyone doesn’t drive a $300 1994 Toyota Celica, especially when the initial premise is thoroughly negated by stating that in the majority of cases, the fault lies with the owner for neglecting necessary service.
But let’s back up a bit, maybe my assessment was a bit harsh and maybe that video was the outlier. Nope, nope and double nope. The double-speak and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude also extends to things like how to properly jack up a car and use jack stands, a subject he did a video on in 2011, pointing out the importance of having a safe jack stands. Fast forward to 2013, and in a video entitled “Fixing Leaking Rusty Brake Lines”, we see this:
The only thing keeping that dangling 3200 lb posterchild of conformity known as a Honda Accord from crushing his Emmy-Award winning skull is a Harbor Freight hydraulic jack made by the lowest bidder in a country that thinks Quality Control is a movie starring Tom Cruise in the late ‘80s. Trust is not something I’d grant to something with such questionable origins. Again, this is perhaps something that an astute observer and presenter with decades worth of work behind him should know and practice regularly. There’s a reason why you don’t see veterans like MotorWeek’s John Davis talking about the importance of putting on seat belts, then riding dirty as soon as the next review starts - it’s because he’s not an insane person and understands the importance of giving advice when perceived as an expert in the community.
In the same video, a video about how to fix automotive brake lines, we see another tidbit of great general advice:
It’s funny that Kilmer would advise someone to use a product on the braking system of their car, that strongly instructs specifically against its use in automotive brake systems. If it wasn’t so morbid, I’d tie it to The Simpsons’ Dr. Nick staring at a burning room, saying to the firefighters, “INflammable means flammable?!” When people bring up this blindingly obvious (and illegal in some states) inconsistency, Kilmer brushes it off as a product of a greedy lawyer conspiracy.
For those wondering, don’t ever use compression fittings that aren’t rated for brake lines, especially on un-flared brake lines. The money you save isn’t worth the surprise you’ll get when you need to stop and you realize that your brake fluid made a break for it three miles ago. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of hokey advice that permeates through Kilmer’s videos. He advocates for snake oily mechanic-in-a-can head gasket sealers that don’t do much more than gum up your coolant passages to the point where it’ll be nearly impossible to take it out of the engine’s inner coolant passages after it hardens, and quick fix sealers for automatic transmissions and engine crankcase oil seals.
He also comments on how rich people are the cheapest people alive:
I’ll give you, the valued reader, a minute to let that sink in. Scotty Kilmer, a person that is actively making money by telling you to use cheap and completely unsafe parts on your car as a matter of expert advice, is lambasting someone else for not wanting to pay full price for something. Pot and kettle, meet thy new bedfellow.
We contacted Scotty for comment on these questionable recommendations, but are yet to hear back.
Many of the dozens of videos on Kilmer’s automotive advice channel are just the sort of thing that could fly for a person that has no money and even less skill, but it should never be taken as general advice from a self-proclaimed expert that has your best interest at heart. At best, it presents a temporary solution and one hell of a permanent problem.
If you’d like to follow the advice of someone who actually does know what he’s doing, with in-depth analyses and results for his claims, I’d suggest you to follow Eric The Car Guy. He’s employed as a automotive technician and his videos, although missing Kilmer’s trademark C-student editing, are incredibly informative and get to the point without treating you like a idiot that can barely get dressed in the morning, much less turn a wrench the right way. I highly recommend his channel, but as always, take my advice with a grain of salt and do your own research. After all, I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t mind an Emmy.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.