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Chevrolet Cavalier: Head Gasket Issues



  • jpfjpf Posts: 496
    You probably want a good mechanic to do this job. Important things to consider when replacing a head gasket: make sure surfaces are clean on block and cylinder head; replace head bolts as well as they tend to warp; use a torque wrench and torque to specs. I am not a mechanic but I had a 95 Corsica with the 2.2 engine and all of these things were not done when the head gasket was replaced the first time. If the job is not done right you will have the same problem within 20K to 30K. Good luck.
  • First of all do you have the 2.2L OHV engine or the 2.4L OHC engine? Because if you have the 2.2L OHV engine you can definetly do the job yourself!

    Lets begin (assuming it is the 2.2 OHV); before starting make sure you have the fallowing; new gasket, sealant, torque wrench ( can be rented if needed), assorted metric and SAE sockets and wrenchs,plyers and .

    Wait for the ENGINE to be COMPLETLY COOL OR MANY THINGS COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG INCLUDING NASTY BURNS!!!! First begin by removing the resonator ( black plastic thing over the throttle body). To do so you'll need nice a 10mm socket and ratchet. Unbolt the resonator mounting bolt using the 10mm socket. Once this is done you can remove the resonator by GENTLY lifting it from the throtle body.

    Once the resonator is removed, you will need to remove a "metal sheild" that protects the fuel rail. To remove this you will need a 13mm wrench (size maybe abit off, if it is simply trial and error until you find the proper side). There are two (2) bolts ontop of "the sheild" and three (3) located on the rear. Once thats out of the way your ready to begin unbolting the valve cover.

    To unbolt the valve cover you'll need to use the 10mm ratchet and socket used earlier for the resonator. There a total of six (6) bolts to unbolt. If the bolts are rusted or seized up, use penetrating fluid (WD-40, Engine Oil) to loosen the rust. Once the bolts have been removed, your ready to lift of the valve cover. Place the cover and cover bolts in a safe location and be carful not to lose any bolts. If the valve cover is stuck, use a block of and a mallet to tap off the cover.

    Once the cover is off, remove the old gasket from the cover and remove all traces of old gasket and sealent from the mating surface. To remove the old sealant use a shop rag soaked in Kerosen. MAKE SURE YOU STORE THE USED RAGS SAFLEY!!!! Once that is done, install apply some RTV sealant to valve cover and install the gasket on the cover. When this is done, put the cover back on. MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE THAT ALL TRACES OF THE OLD GASKET HAVE BEEN REMOVED OR AN OIL LEAK CAN/WILL OCCUR!!!!

    Using the torque wrench install the valve cover bolts to Chevrolet's torque specifications. Install the fuel rail protective sheild and the resonator and you are done! I also strongly suggest that you pick up a Haynes repair manual (15-20 CDN$). They contain tons of pictures and tips to make the job easier. Have fun and keep that hard earned money! If you have any questions Pep Boys, NAPA, Partsource (if your in Canada) will be glad to provide any advice! :)
  • I own a 1994 automatic cavalier with about 136,000 miles on it. I just had the head gasket replaced last week after it overheated. I got my car back yesterday (Saturday) and today after driving it on the highway for about 6 miles the check engine light came on. It seemed to be running fine though. I turned around and came home because i don't want to do anymore possible damage to it. And of course the repair shop isn't open today. I will bring it in tomorrow morning but was wondering if you guys had any idea what the problem could be.

    I've recently had the following replaced: water pump (after car overheated a month ago), alternator, battery, starter (about 7 mo. ago), new spark plugs, new brakes, all new tires and a serpentine belt. I get oil changes every 3,000-3,500 miles. I drive mostly on the highway to commute 20 miles to and from work every day and some in town driving. I am so frustrated as I have put so much money into this vehicle. I am looking to buy a new (used) car soon but need this car to last me at least another month or two.

    Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

    p.s. - My power steering also seems screwed up since I got it back from the shop. I've had this happen before for brief times but it would always go back to normal.
  • I have steam seeping out of the valve cover gasket. At first it was intermittent, but now it seems to be constant. It leaks from the front side over the exhaust manifold. There is no water in the oil. The car is a '94 with 114K miles and I am trying to decide if it's a DIY job.

    The last head gasket I replaced was in '82 on a Ford Fiesta. When that went it broke a valve (the replacement was incorrectly listed at the dealer and it took 3 days to get the right valve - after I took a good one and showed them that their replacement was incorrect!)

    Any thoughts on whether it's a gasket, head or worse?
  • 1996 Cavalier Z24 two door coupe.
    140,000 miles.

    My mechanic identified that the head gasket was leaking hydrocarbons at something like 35 parts per million. Said it should be zero. He didn't want to take the engine apart to fix it and so applied SteelSeal. The hydrocarbons are now down to 15 parts per million.

    I am looking to sell this car. Figure that the buyer will have a head gasket repair job sometime in a year or so (and of course I'll be up front about it), but am concerned that because it was not fully repaired I might be mistaken and the buyer will be stuck with a repair job very soon.

    Mechanic said that the hydrocarbon leak would not cause it to fail a smog check.

  • gbmegbme Posts: 2
    My son came home last night and told me the car had overheated.It is a 2000 Chevy Cavalier with a 2.2. It died about a half of a block away. Now is won't start, just turns over and makes a sound like the starter is going out or some thing. I don't know if it is a blown head gasket or the timing belt. I removed the valve cover and then turned over the motor and the rocker arms are all working. So I'm thinking it isn't the timing unless it jumped time. Can someone give my a little help here. Thanks
  • gonogogonogo Posts: 879
    Check cylinder compression. If it died from overheating it almost surely cracked the aluminum cylinder head.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    You can also pull the spark plugs and look for presence of coolant. Overheating is deadly for these cars so head gasket is suspect.

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  • jh12jh12 Posts: 1
    Does anyone know if this problem is as common in newer models? I'm very close to purchasing a used 2004 with about 51,000 miles on it. Most of these seem to involve older models, but the fact that it happened to someone with a 2005 with low miles is not very comforting.

    I had a 1997 Dodge Neon that I bought because I liked the look and the way it ran and handled. It was a 2.0 DOHC Sport model. Little did I know when I bought it 5 years ago that they were notorious for head gasket problems. 2 or 3 years later, I had a blown head and dropped $800 to repair it. I really don't want to go through that again.

    I know my dad said they had 2.2 engines in their Dodge trucks when he worked for the Department of Transportation, and that they were junk. These were older 2.2's, and not the Ecotec.

    I'm also considering a 2004 Kia Optima. The reason I'm leaning to the Cavalier is I thought it could save me more money all the way around... on gas, on insurance, on parts and maintenance. I'm not dirt poor, mostly because I live alone, but I'm definitely not rich either. I'm a one vehicle owner, so I need something dependable.
  • gonogogonogo Posts: 879
    If you want dependable get a Corolla.
  • Hi, everyone. My 95' cavalier coupe is the prettiest little car, but.... it seems to have every problem i've read in these forums. Bought it in 2000' from original owner who had timely oil changes, maintenance, ect.. 1 month later cracked head!! Never even overheated on me? So almost $1000 later with a rebeaded head,( I know I got jipped ) I had overheating, then waterpump went out, then air conditioning, then brakes, ignition recall, timing belt, side door panel falls off, electrical problems, throttle stuck and excelerated in drive, muffler fell off, numerous sensors replaced and finally tires. HHHH!!! Now for the last two years it started to spit and sputter and die when its cold or raining ! This is after regular tune-ups and oil changes. It has coolant around the second spark plug from the right constantly and fouls out. Help!!!!! I know its a money pit. Any ideas???? Please. :cry:
  • My girlfriend owns a 94 cavalier with 114000 on it. About 3 months ago it started to spit and lose power. After about 10 mins this would go away. Then a few days later it happened again. Then 2 months ago she just died and wouldn't start at all. Then 3 days ago I tried to start it and it just fired right off. Ran fine til this morning when it just wouldnt start. This afternoon it started right up. Can someone please help?
  • I am having Coolant Problems on my 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier. I keep filling it with water and it leaks right out. I have to refil the tank everytime I drive or my engine will overheat. If anyone on here may know what the problem is...please help!! Thank You in advance.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    You mean it spurts out through the overflow tank, or it just "disappears" and you can't see where, or it leaks and you can see it leaking, or ?????

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  • jpfjpf Posts: 496
    The 2004 cavaliers came with the 2.2 Ecotec engine. This engine should not be confused with the old-tech 2.2 overhead valve engine that was the base engine in Cavaliers until 2002(?). The old-tech 2.2 had a cast iron block and aluminum cylinder head that was prone to blowing head gaskets. I do not believe the newer 2.2 has this problem. Good luck.
  • bella14bella14 Posts: 3
    I am the original owner of a 98 cavalier. It was problem free for many years, but in the last 2 years it has had issues. The latest is overheating. I hadn't gone 3 miles from home when a light came on the dash showing low coolant, then within 3-4 minutes the needle on the temp gauge went over to H when it normally is right in the middle between C and H. So, I pulled over and turned the car off. After it cooled off I looked in the water resevoir and it was empty, so I added some water and was able to drive it to a mechanic without the light coming on again or the needle going to H. After a day with the car, the guy tells me nothing is wrong with it. Charged me $85 for that information. I drove it home and the next day all that water I added and I guess antifreeze was now on the ground in my garage. I added more antifreeze/water and took it out and the dash light came back on.

    Long story short, I had another mechanic look it over and he pressure tested the system and told me the water pump was leaking, a sensor that makes the fan come on was bad and the sensor wasn't switching the fan on, and I might have a blown head gasket. He replaced the water pump, he replaced the thermostat, replaced the sensor, he flushed the system and added some sealer - I think he called it Red Devil -- and said it was a temporary fix for a head gasket problem. He drove it around and said he thought it was ok for awhile.

    I am a nervous wreck now to drive it. I figure I'll have to get that gasket replaced eventually, but how long do you think I have? I'll need to save money in order to get it done, otherwise I would have had him do it today. Is it possible that the water pump could have been the big problem or is it definitely a head gasket problem when the coolant leaks and the car temp gauge goes to H?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    I'm not sure why a mechanic would THINK you "might" have blown a head gasket. There are sure-fire ways to test for this.

    In any event, perhaps the repairs done will fix the problem. If the head gasket is in fact leaking, you won't get far with the car.

    In the future, the proper tests for a head gasket leak are:

    1. pressurize the system, remove spark plugs and inspect

    2. inspect the oil for water intrusion

    3. test the radiator coolant for combustion gases with the proper tester

    4. compression test that shows two low adjacent cylinders

    5. white smoke out of exhaust pipe

    6. rapid overheating

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  • bella14bella14 Posts: 3
    Thank you for your reply. I have been driving it almost a week now and it isn't leaking fluid on my garage floor anymore -- but once I've been driving it around town a bit the needle on the temp gauge is starting to go over toward the H when all these years it always sat right in the middle between C and H. It doesn't get into the red H zone, but it is definitely no longer in the middle between C and H. Should this worry me? What does the fact that the temp is running hotter mean?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Head gasket failure wouldn't be a gradual overheat.

    The general rule, to which there are exceptions, is that if you have a low speed overheat, that is, when the car is barely moving, you have an AIR circulation problem, (non-working fan for instance) and if you have a high speed overheat, that is when the car is moving fairly rapidly, you have a coolant circulation problem. (clogged radiator, stuck thermostat).

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  • bella14bella14 Posts: 3
    Thanks for the info. I know nothing about engines, but I am learning something here.

    I brought it to the mechanic last night for him to look at the fan -- (to show me where it was actually) He is a friend's brother in law, so I do believe that he is honest. After the engine cooled down I checked and the coolant is staying in the resevoir -- no more big leakage in my garage yet the temp gauge climbs past halfway while driving in stop and go traffic under 50 miles an hour. I was very nervous seeing it climb past the halfway point since it never used to do that.

    He checked it and showed me the fan was going while the A/C was on. Then he turned the A/C off and we waited and waited to see when or if the fan would kick back on by itself. It did eventually. So it seems not to be a fan problem. He said the temp outside has something to do with how hot an engine gets, and living in Florida it gets hot here. It is usually in the 90's everyday, most of the day and sunny. Driving it at night the temp gauge still goes past the mid point, but not by much. During the day it goes over 3/4 of the way and it seems dangerously close to the white line marking the space before the dreaded red zone of H.

    Why is it running so much hotter? He said it was safe to drive it at 3/4 of the way over, but it scares me. He said to pull over and shut it off if it gets into the red H zone, of course. I spend all the time behind the wheel now staring at the gauge and praying for it not to move more. Why has it changed? (He replaced the water pump, the thermostat, some sensor, and put in that Red Devil sealant in case the gasket was going.) He didn't really have an answer that was definitive for me as to why it is running hotter. I thought maybe someone here with more experience would know. Is it safe to drive at 3/4 of the way over toward HOT? How can I get it back to the safer middle area?

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Sure 3/4 is fine. Engines are happier when they run hot in fact.

    It might be a good idea to see if you can get the fan to kick in SOONER, that is, at a lower temperature. Changing the type of sensor could help with this.

    Overheating problems can be a devil to diagnose---very challenging for any mechanic.

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  • becky30becky30 Posts: 1

    Sounds like I have a very similar problem with my chevy. Was wondering if you would be able to let me know what you have found out and/or what work you have done to fix the overheating. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • it actually isn't just the 95's. it is the 90's in general. i have a 91 cavalier RS that the head gasket went out on. it sux. but i went and got a head gasket kit from NAPA and will be puttin it on this weekend. have you tried replacing the head bolts???
  • Hi,
    I'm in New Zealand, where we have a lot of Toyota badged RHD Chevy Cavaliers. Everyone said 'don't buy one' but what did I do?? They have a reputation for trouble here and are virtually worthless, and many get broken up for parts when still perfectly ok. I've had a good run with my 96 2.4G for 4 years needing only an alternator, but lately that dreaded engine light has been playing up. For a few weeks when I turned the key on, the gauges all flickered and it made a static type sound. I had to turn the key on and off until it didn't do it and it went fine. Now thats stopped, but now the engine check light only comes on about every 10th time I turn the key, and there's no way it'll run until that light comes up. Once it starts up, no problem on the road, runs smooth and strong, and idles perfect. Looks from other replies that its emissions syetm related, but is any particular sensor likely to be the culprit. Our GM dealers don't want to know about these cars, nor do Toyota dealers, so I'm not sure we can even run the diagnostics.
  • I bought a 98 w/ the head gasket out. I pulled it apart, milled the head, used a 0.020 head gasket shim and a new head gasket. It ran great for over a year.
    I then had an issue and lost the serpentine belt. It got hot immediately. Fixed the belt and it was then blowing compression into the cooling system and this caused the water to blow out of the coolant tank. I pulled the head again, milled it again and put it back together with new bolts and gasket. It ran great but still had the compression in the cooling system issue.
    I am so good at this by now, it took just 1 hour to pull the head. The head gasket and shim looked great and this was confirmed by my machinest. This was not confirmed but it is my feeling that the current head I have is cracked. Machinest thinks so too. No water leaks to the outside, no water in the oil, no sign of water in the combustion chambers, but compression in the radiator. I then noticed many coolant holes in the head, that open to the block, but the head gasket does not have holes in it to allow the water to pass. This prevents water from circulating from the head to the block as this is a reverse flow cooling system.
    I bought a used head. It is guaranteed to not be cracked. In looking at the used head, I can see the V track where the old head gasket allowed water from the head to the block on this head. I have been using FelPro head gaskets. I tried to look at a Victor and GM but no one has that head gasket in stock to compare.
    The cold water comes from the radiator and enters the head on the passenger side end. It travels to the drivers side and should allow some water to flow down through these steam holes in the head and block. The current FelPro gaskets will not allow this water to pass. The water then gets to the drivers side end of the block, travels down into the block, and then back to the passenger side where it comes to the thermostat. Since the water cannot pass, due to the head gasket not having the holes to allow circulation, steam is being generated in the head as the coolant is not properly circulating to prevent this. I may not have a cracked head. It may be these pockets of steam that are being generated to is causing the pressure in the coolant tank. I am going to go with the used head though to make sure.
    Will be pondering this question today. Will also take some photos so I can show what is happening with the head gasket issue. Saying that FelPro screwed up the gasket is something major and I am not yet doing so. At present, I am thinking of a new head gasket, using a gasket punch to open the 18 holes that are not in the new head gasket, and screwing it back together with the newer used head.
    Will keep you informed. Your thoughts.
  • I've recently received my father's car ('99 2.2L), which had been perfectly reliable for the past 8 years (believe it or not) without anything major involving the engine.

    2 weeks ago, there was a large "bang" that seemingly came out of nowhere- right from the engine. All the indicators and lights were normal - so I was pretty surprised. Ever since then, I've had problems with the car failing to start, rapid overheating (at idle the needle is above normal), coolant leakage, and white smoke coming from the exhaust.

    Now I know that it's EXTREMELY likely that it's a broken gasket.. But now I've just realized with all the comments that's this is a pretty common problem..

    Was I lucky to not have this problem until now? And how much would it cost to repair the damages? Keep in note that I have had to drive around a bit when the needle was in H.. So I think the damage might be pretty high. :sick:
  • kelvinckelvinc Posts: 1
    It sounds like you have the exact problem that my mother in was having with her car. We thought it was a headgasket but it turned out to be a clogged coolant system.
  • I have a 2001 Cavalier with 275,000 miles on it. I have had the head replaced three times in the past and now am having more trouble. My water pump, thermostat, radiator are all new. I replaced my head gasket due to the exhaust escaping into the water ports and forcing coolant out through the resevour. This thing would build up so much pressure that ever drop of coolant would blow out the tank. Strange thing is that the coolant hasn't ever gone through the exhaust pipe (no white smoke) and there isn't any water in the oil. I finally broke down and baught a new head and another new gasket and again new head bolts. I followed every instruction to a tee (this ain't my first walk through the park) and when I was finished I started the car up and it seemed to be running fabulously. I sat there and watched it get warm and was satisfied that everything was o kay but I turned my back to pick up my tools, the darned thing started blowing coolant out the reserve tank again. Can anyone please please please give me some guidance on this? I've never seen this happen in this way and I'm at the end of my rope. I can't understand why it's doing this. :mad:
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Well if you were SURE that exhaust gases were escaping into the coolant (by using a test kit to show combustion gases in the coolant), and putting on a new head didn't fix it, then you must have a crack in the engine block.

    If you didn't actually test for combustion gases but assumed so, then perhaps you have a badly clogged radiator.

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  • you need to run some prestone cleaner thru it to clean your system and make sure that you bleed the air out of the system b/c that can led to overheating and too much pressure build up. put about half bottle of the cleaner thru it for about two or three days, drain it and run the rest of the bottle thru for another two or three days and drain it again. fill it up with coolant but only the dex cool coolant and make sure to bleed the air out. let it run for about 30-45 mins the just bleed the air every coulpe of mins once it warms up and the should fix your problem
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