CavalierStarting in the 1980s. the Cavalier made a name for itself by offering an affordable 2 and 4 door compact. Platform: J-body
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Hopefully this might help someone with a Cavalier that won't start. I didn't post asking for help, but too many people never come back to say what they found, so I am trying to make up a little for that.
I just fixed my 97 Cavalier that began having trouble staring a couple days ago. It would crank and sound like it was running, but when I let go of the key, it would die. No codes.
It didn't matter if it was hot or cold, I always had trouble starting it. Sometimes it would start and run, but only after trying 6, 10, or more times. Once it started, it would run perfectly fine. However, the next time I would go to start it the same problem happened.
At first I suspected the fuel pump (it did run for 2 seconds when I turned the key). However, when I pressed on the gas pedal while cranking, the engine would rev, so I eliminated the fuel pump as the problem. I thought about the ignition switch not working in the "Run" position but when the car did start, it ran fine, so I eliminated that as being the problem.
I was about to start trouble shooting by checking for spark and pulling out my mulitmeter to check voltages, but wanted to check if there was a passcode problem first.
When I was checking to see if the passcode security light was coming on on the dashboard, I noticed something strange. The ignition switch has 4 positions - "off", "idiot lamp test", "run", and "start". I noticed that when I turned the key from the "idiot light test" position to the "run" position, two additional lights came on. One was "Check Engine" and the other was "ETS". This gave me the clue I needed.
I then noticed that when I cranked the engine and released the key, all of the idiot lights were on EXCEPT FOR the "Check Engine" and "ETS" lights. These two should be lit with the ignition switch in the "run" position, but they weren't. Then when I went to crank again, those two would came on.
Of course that's when it hit me. It was a bad ignition switch. What was happening was that after releasing the key from the "start" position, instead of the ignition switch falling back to the "run" position and stopping there, it was falling back (past the "run" position) to the "idiot light test" position. With so many idiot lights on the dash illuminated, at first I never notice that two additional ones weren't lit but should have been.
To confirm this I did the following. Instead of releasing the key like normal after cranking, I held on to it with my finger and thumb and slowly guided it backwards. This caused it to stop at the "run" position. Every time I did this, the car started and ran fine. I went to the auto store, picked up a new ignition switch ($40 with a lifetime guarantee), and replaced it. Now the car is back to normal and starts and runs perfectly.
As usual, once the problem is fixed, the symptoms make complete sense. At those times when the ignition switch didn't fall all the way back to the "idiot light test" position, the car started and ran fine. Heat or cold had no bearing on this so that's why it wouldn't start regardless of temperature.
It is quite possible that had the switch worn out more, it might have popped out of the run position while driving it (at those times when the car did start) causing the car to stall in traffic. I am glad I found the problem before that happened.
By the way. The size of female Torx socket that is needed to remove the two screws that hold the ignition switch on is E4. I looked all over the internet for that info but couldn't find it. It cost me $2.99 for one at Autozone which beats having to buy a pack of different sizes for $20 because you don't know which one is needed.
It was slightly challenging removing the switch because it is hard to get the socket on the top screw due to the shape of the ignition switch (the thicker part of the socket, which is bigger to fit on a 1/4 inch drive ratchet or nut drive shaft, hits the ignition switch housing. Also the bracket for the steering wheel tilt lever is in the way, and the dash board area by the left driver vent is where the handle of your nut driver needs to be. A very short 1/4 drive extension will allow you to use a ratchet just past the ignition switch so you won't have to slightly disassemble the dash like I did. If you can find a female Torx E4 that is narrow along it's entire length or a screwdriver type, it will work better because the side won't hit the casing of the ignition switch and will fit under the tilt lever bracket better..
Also, the steering wheel tilt lever has a low strenght locktite on the threads so I had to use a vice grips to unscrew it. I put a rubber jar open thing around it to keep from marring it up but I sill did.Nothing a little black paint won't fix.
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