Mystery of the 1988 Cavalier

dchroustdchroust Member Posts: 3
Mystery of the 1988 Cavalier

Two years ago my car violently shuddered and stalled out at a red light just off the freeway, which I had driven home from work for sixty miles at 65-70 mph. Since the car was also reluctant to decelerate much below 20-25 mph when I let it coast, I though the transmission might be going and discovered that the fluid was low. Two years later I do not reliably remember how much I poured in, but it was at least one liter. Oddly, I never had to add any more since then.
As for the violent shuddering and stalling out at the first red light just off the freeway, this continued but only one or twice every few months. However, the car constantly resisted decelerating below 20-25 mph after each sixty-mile stretch of freeway between home and work. I would take my foot off the pedal and the car would coast down to as low as 15 mph, but then it would kick in and climb up to 30-35 mph even after a mile or more of coasting! I just let it coast, sometimes shifting to neutral to make it slow down just before our house, and I kept on driving, because I am determined to become the last man in America driving a 1988 Chevy Cavalier. (When I bought mine fifteen years ago, the country was teeming with them, but then these great herds were killed off as fast as the buffalo.)
Until one week ago the car was parked for two months for want of a new starter. I am back on the road, but now the car seems ready to shudder and stall out every day at the first stop at each end of my sixty-mile stretch of freeway. Worse, when the traffic light turns green the car tends to stall out again as soon as I restart the engine and shift to drive. With cars behind me waiting to drive through the intersection, I obviously cannot afford to let this problem continue. My mechanic’s first remedy, a new fuel filter, did not solve the problem, although the old filter was already dirty after just seven or eight months. (I now know not to run close to empty before refilling.) While the car was idle I replaced the spark plugs after seventy thousand miles. The electrodes were rough with dark deposits or corrosion. Otherwise, I change the oil and filter every three thousand miles, regularly check the fluid levels and tire pressure, replace the air filter and drive the car very gently. When I last checked in October I was still getting 32-34 mpg!
The car now has over 174,000 miles, and I want to keep driving it. However, I also want to stop worrying every time I get off the freeway and approach the first traffic light: will it turn red and make me stall out for good this time? I also do not want to get into an expensive routine of getting one part after another replaced, trial-and-error style. Can you give me any good advice? Is the car’s computer likely to say exactly where the problem is if I get an analyzer test ($40)? The car is most prone to stalling out and to resisting decelerating at the first red light after I get off the freeway. Then it gradually adjusts to city driving, but it never completely overcomes either tendency.


  • dshepherd3dshepherd3 Member Posts: 194
    This is a very common problem with the THM125c trans, the tcc solenoid is not releasing at low speed and causes the exact symptoms you describe, it is about a 175.00 repair, the trans side cover must be removed and the solenoid on the auxiliary valve body replaced.
  • vidtechvidtech Member Posts: 212
    An EGR valve sticking open after you exit the freeway will also cause the symptoms you describe.
  • cutehumorcutehumor Member Posts: 137
    I commend you. My g/f 96 pontiac sunfire has 89k miles on it. I am also determined to keep the car on the road as long as possible. even though she says she is starting to get tired of the car after six years of ownership. I'll end up driving it when she gets a new car in the future. lol

    btw, have you had any other repairs to this vehicle over the years? I recently had to replace her alternator other than that she's had normal maintence.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,326 grandmother's '85 LeSabre had in it (it was a 4-speed overdrive, that's all I remember), but it had problems with the solenoid too, and would shudder and buck when slowing down from highway speeds. I don't think it ever stalled, and they got it fixed pretty cheaply before it got too bad.

    My roommate has a '98 Tracker that had just the opposite problem...the converter wouldn't lock up, and would send a code to the computer that made the check engine light come on.

    Congratulations though, on keeping your Cavalier for that long! I had two buddies back in college that had Cavaliers. One had a base 1985 4-door sedan that had electrical problems around 1994, with about 110K or so miles on it. One day it just wouldn't start, and a new battery wouldn't do the trick so they got rid of it.

    My other buddy had an '89 Z-24 coupe that was a pretty hot car in its day. It blew a head gasket, also around the 110K mark, and his family donated it for a tax writeoff.

    Come to think of it, I had another buddy with an '87 Z-24, and it blew a head gasket too. His dad was a mechanic though, so he fixed it for him.
  • cutehumorcutehumor Member Posts: 137
    I hear ya on the head gaskets. my g/f 96 pontiac sunfire 2.2 L engine overheats when idling for extensive periods of times at drive thru fast food places. but never overheats at stoplights. I suspect the headgasket or themostat, I checked the coolant level. it's full. I guess I will know when I do an oil analysis on her oil. lol
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Gee those fast food places couldn't be very fast :)
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
  • cutehumorcutehumor Member Posts: 137
    I would say it would overheat when there are five cars in front of you in the drive thru lane. I could hear her fans come on.
  • lovetosavegaslovetosavegas Member Posts: 73
    My friend drives a '88 Cavalier in Ukraine - it has ~100K on it and car runs pretty good. It has all original parts but third muffler, third front break pads, spark plugs, belts and hoses.
    With the pace he is driving, he probably can beat you, dchroust.Hehehe.
    Did I mention there is no unleaded gasoline in Ukraine?(catalitic converter had to be removed:)
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,326 high up does the temperature gauge creep when it starts running hot? Does it actually get up into the danger zone? Electric fans cycle on and off all the time, so the fan coming on doesn't necessarily mean that the car's overheating.
  • cutehumorcutehumor Member Posts: 137
    halfway is the norm on her temp gauge I say about 175 degrees. I can't remember exactly her themostat temps. I think the low is 100 degrees and the high is 250 degrees. it goes about another 1/3 up on her thermostat when the fans come on or 215 degrees. pretty loud and noticeable though. It comes back down to normal (175) when she is driving. I've told her about it, she just ignores it. not a good way to keep a car along time. I'm going to do an oil analysis to check for antifreeze in the oil when I change her oil next time. so she won't know. lol
    She has that dex cool orange stuff and I heard that stuff was crap. I don't even know if she has even had the coolant changed. I've known her since 99; the car is a 96 sunfire with 89k miles

    andre, what are the typical lifespans of thermostats?
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,326
    ...and does seem like an awful lot of fluctuation in temperature for a newer car. On just about all the cars I ever owned that had a temp gauge (some just had idiot lights that told you when it was too late!), it was very rare for the needle to creep up beyond the middle, unless the car was overheating.

    As for how long a thermostat lasts, that's a good question. I really don't know. I've only had one new car in my life, which is my '00 Intrepid, which currently has about 74,500 miles on it. I've had to replace thermostats in old cars before, but I don't know how long they had been in there before.

    I think thermostats are usually designed to fail in the open position, which should make the car run cooler (and also take longer to warm up in the mornings). Occasionally though, I'm sure they can fail closed, which would make you overheat pretty quickly!
  • albuterolalbuterol Member Posts: 21
    dshepherd3 is right, it's the tcc solenoid. Happened exactly as you described on my '89 Cavalier. The easy way to test is to unplug the power connector to the tcc solenoid. I did that for a while until I replaced the solenoid -- $20 from and pretty easy -- just pulled off the driver's front tire, removed a small wheel-well cover, removed the tranny valve body cover, and it was right there. Oh yeah, had to drain the tranny fluid first, but that was no big deal. Runs great now.
This discussion has been closed.