95 Cavlier LS 2.2L not starting

I have seen some similar posts, but I can’t tell if it’s the same problem or not. I have a decent mechanic in the area, but I still want to have an idea of what kind of problem I’m looking at so I can see if I can fix it myself, and if not have an idea of what to expect as his diagnosis.

Car is a 1995 Chevy Cavlier LS. 2.2L engine, about 127,000 miles. Has a minor coolant leak (freeze-out plug) and a slow oil leak (if I forget to check the level, the oil light comes on about 3000 miles after an oil change). It’s beat up, had a few years of poor maintenance (but limited use) before I got it from a relative 3-4 years ago. I do oil changes at 3-5k miles, keeping fluids topped off, and try to remember to change the air filter regularly (which reminds me, I think I’m due for one).

Problem history:
About 7 months ago, I had problems with the battery going dead. Some of it related to stupid mistakes–lights on or door ajar. Battery was old, parts store suggested replacing it. New battery fixed the issue.
About 2 weeks ago, I tried to start it and ran into the same problem after the car hadn’t been run for 2+ days. Dash lights come on, the key-in/startup bell chimes, but turning the key to start leads to fast clicking from the engine and the chime sounding rapidly. I forget if it made any other sounds at the time. Attempting to jump it didn’t work, but the other car had an old battery and the cables were kindof cheap. Called roadside, and he was able to jump it. He suggested taking the battery to Advance, so we did that.
Advance charged the battery, tested it, said it was fine. Suggested I bring the car over and they could test to see if it’s charging the battery. I did that, and it seemed ok. Engine was a little rough, possibly spark plugs, but I haven’t checked that out yet. I figured I had done something stupid again and left a door ajar or the headlights on.
Today, same problem again. I last drove it 2-3 days ago. Headlights were definitely off. It’s possibly the driver door was ajar causing the dome light to stay on, but I doubt it. Same noises when I turn the key as before, I hear the sound of the engine trying to start once (I think that it’s trying to turn over), but it won’t start. Haven’t had a chance to try and jump it yet.

Possibly relevant:
Back in the spring, it wouldn’t start one day, but the engine wouldn’t do anything, no clicking etc. Neutral safety switch was loose/misaligned. Mechanic was able to make a small adjustment, and it’s been fine.

As nice as it would be to get a new car, I just don’t think it’s worth it. The repairs I’ve needed along the way still come in less than a car payment and increased insurance rates, and since I’d probably buy used there’s the chance of having to pay for repairs on top of making payments. Also, I consider having the oldest, most beat-up car in the lot at work to be a perverse badge of honor.

Here’s something simple you can do yourself.

Remove both cables from the side mount battery. Negative first.

On the positive cable. peel back the red cover to expose the positive battery terminals. If there’s a lot of corrosoin under the cover replace the positive battery cable assembly.


Beyond what Tester recommends, a mechanic would load test the battery. If the battery was ok, then he’d probably measure the voltages at both terminals of the starter motor during attempted cranking. I expect this problem can be solved, but whether it is worth it? Don’t know.

Disconnected the battery and checked it out, pulled back the rubber cover on the positive cable and had a look. The metal on the positive connection was a little dull (both were a little dull, in fact), but there was only a couple of little spots of corrosion–a little whitish patch and a little turquoise patch. Battery is completely dead today–no lights, no sound, nothing happens.

The only thing that I know of that could drain the battery is the clock on the stereo. The clock is always on, but the whole time I’ve owned the car it’s been that way, and my uncle who had it before said it was like that as well. The car has sat for just as long, if not longer, in the past while I’ve owned it and started right up, so I doubt that little clock display would have anything to do with it.

When it did this a couple of weeks ago, the tests Advance did (starting engine, idling without lights & a/c, idling with lights & a/c, revving the engine) indicated the battery should be charging ok. My very un-informed theory is that the car is taking more power than it should to start, running the battery down more than it can recover when I make a succession of a few short trips. I’m not sure if that would show up in testing.

Putting in a call to the mechanic. I need to be up and running by Tuesday, and with getting nothing out of the battery now, I don’t think there’s much I can try.

Thanks for the help, though! I feel better about having attempted something, however small. If I had more time and an extra pair of hands (who could jump my car, too), I’d keep working on it myself.

If nothing else works for you try this: Disconnect and clean each of two ground wire ring lug connectors attached to the upper bell housing. I had electrical trouble unlike yours with a 96 Cavalier that was repaired by cleaning and it’s no cost for you to try it. My ground connections were corroded from exposure to winter road salt. If you have a little silicone or other grease, it’s easy to grease the connections to keep the corrosion away. The grease will not prevent an electrical connection.