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1996 Chevrolet Cavalier

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 3.5

Reviewed by 77 users

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Chevy Cavalier: The Good, The Bad & the Uncomfortable


by chilliwi:      Feb 7, 2002 - Updated Jul 28, 2009


Product Rating: 3.0 Recommended: No 

Pros: Low basic maintenance, good price, a lot of features for the money
Cons: some problems can be pricey! many rattles, can be uncomfortable
The Bottom Line: Good car if you trade in every three years. Some repairs can be expensive, but maintence costs relatively low.


I researched for about six months before I purchased my 1996 Chevy Cavalier LS sedan. I compared price, styling, performance, equipment, and options with the Dodge Neon, Honda Civic, Saturn Sedan & Coupe, Ford Escort, and the Geo Prizm. Choosing the Cavalier was very easy. For roughly $12,000, I bought a sporty little car with anti-lock brakes, dual airbags, air conditioning, automatic transmission, traction control, a 150 hp engine (I upgraded to the 2.4 liter engine-which was a wise, wise choice!). It is also very low maintenance. With the exception of regular oil changes and tire rotations, the Cavalier does not require other maintenance until 100,000 miles is reached.This was hands-down the most car available for the money!

I absolutely loved this car (notice “loved” is past tense–I’ll get to that). It is surprisingly quick (The optional 2.4 liter, twin-cam, 150 hp engine is the same one that is standard on the Z24 (sport) model) and is very responsive. I was very impressed at how great this car handles in snowy, Wisconsin weather, not to mention how fast it warms up! This was the first car I have owned that had anti-lock brakes and traction control–and what a difference they have made!

I was extremely happy with my Cavalier for the first 3 years (61,000 miles). I did have the brakes replaced at only 31,000 miles, which was somewhat disappointing since I am not a “hard braker.” Other than the brakes, I didn’t have so much as a squeak for the first three years. Luckily, since I do commute a fair distance to work, I purchased a 5 year/75,000 mile extended warranty. At 61,000 miles, I noticed my engine light coming on when ever I drove at highway speeds for at least 20 minutes (I didn’t notice anything wrong). This is where the fun began. I brought it to the dealership, and they didn’t see any obvious problems, so they reset the indicator light and sent me on my way. the next day the light came on again. This time they found the problem: An oil pump within the transmission was defective. It was covered by the extended warranty, but would have cost me $1100, had I not bought the warranty. Two months later, My car broke down and had to be towed to the dealership. Fortunately, once again, my warranty covered the $495 fuel pump replacement and a $700 coolant leak repair. Since then, I have notice rattles coming from the dashboard, and trunk and/or muffler. I have been told these noises due to flaws in the car’s design.

After five years and 84,000 miles, I hadn’t had major problems for nearly a year, until I noticed a noise coming from somewhere close to the engine that sounded like an exhaust leak. It seemed to get a little louder over a period of three weeks, so I made an appointment to have it looked at. A few days before I was to bring it to the shop, It broke completely, and was louder than ANY exhaust problem I had ever heard! The exhaust system was still attached to the car, but had completely broke off from the engine manifold. The dealership estimate was between ($500 and $600). I was able to find a local muffler shop willing to weld a new piece of pipe on for only $90. I also found out that one of the engine mounts is defective (very labor intensive to repair) which caused the engine to shake, which in turn caused the exhaust pipe to break.

I have now owned this car for six years and have racked up 106,000 miles, which is longer than I thought I would have this car considering the problems I had after three years. The car now has a lot of rattles and odd noises that come and go, and never seem to act up when I bring the car in to have it looked at, so these noises have yet to be fixed. Other than that the past year hasn’t been to hard on my pocket book as far as my Cavalier goes, other than for routine things like tires, brakes, a new battery, and a 100,000 mile tune-up, but those things are to be expected! Also, I’m not sure if its because this care is getting old or if they were always this way, but I’ve noticed lately that the seats are annoyingly uncomfortable!

Basically, I could recommend this car to someone who trades their car in every three years, or who doesn’t put many miles on their car. However, I found that this car is only somewhat reliable for the long term (if you consider 6 years/100,000 miles long term).

Update:
At 122,000 miles, (and only 7 years old) the car made a loud noise while I was accelerating on the expressway on my way to work. It then would not go faster than about 15- 20 miles per hour or shift out of 1st gear (it is an automatic). I new immediately that the transmission was trashed. Luckily I was near an off ramp, and I was able to pull over safetly and call for a tow. The cost to have the transmission repaired would have been about $2200 which was about the same as the value of the car, so I decided not to go forward with the repairs. The car was also in need of new tires, and I was leery of putting too much more money into it at this point, since this repair was no longer covered under a warranty.

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Amount Paid (US$): 12,000
Condition: New
Model Year: 1996
Model and Options: LS, Automatic, 2.4 litre engine
Product Rating: 3.0
Recommended: No 
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