Trying for about 3 weeks to fix this car/starter - main issue: 5 wires heading to starter

So, it’s a 1999 Chevy Cavalier, manual transmission. When it first stopped starting, it was like a three day process - it first day, it was /kinda/ a slow start, 2nd day it felt like it barely started, and the third day I ALMOST gave up, and it finally started. Called it that day, that it would be the last time it started up, and sure enough, no crank no start the next.

I’ve bought a brand new battery for it (which by now, with the AMT of times it’s been drained and sat at 4V or so, I’m sure it’s shot, but that’s not why I’m here today), alternator tested perfect just yesterday, thinking maybe that was the culprit this whole time, but nope, it’s the starter (most likely my wiring?)

Sorry for the length, but here’s the history: Installed a brand new starter from Advance Auto, took a LOT of guess work to figure out where the last small wire went (should mention that of the five wires, three have large eyelets, and two have small, but the two small are not quite the same size of small, if that makes sense?) and finally got the SOB to start up, although it sounded ROUGH on the flywheel and would take a second to actually start.

Did this about 5 or six times in my daily driving, till I was putting gas in one day, finished up, and was greeted with a no crank no start again! Popped the hood, with keys in ignition and, I believe in “on” position, and saw the starter motor start smoking and sparking like crazy, then the car started by itself! So I hopped back in, and drove it to a friend’s house where it currently sits.

Brought the starter back, luckily they didn’t know I (most likely?) miswired it, and was given a “new” (re-man) starter. Now, I’ve gotten it to start up, but when I turn the car off, the starter keeps chuggachuggin, so I turn the key again and start it up, was going to drive to advance and ask them, but the starter started SMOKING AGAIN! Turned it off, unhookmed the battery cause it wouldn’t stop, called it a day.

Now today, I’ve moved some wires, I have the three big eyelet ones going to the top solenoid post, and the two small ones going to the only small post that they fit on. It now spins when I turn the key, but sounds like it either isn’t popping out at all, or is simply missing the flywheel…

Should aslos mention the “cover” that protects the flywheel, the shield I believe it’s called? is missing a bolt, so I’ve improvised and tried tightening it up with a similar sized bolt that fits in the hole, but won’t go in straight, because the shield is slightly off kilter! Does this matter? It seems like the shield has nothing rly to do with the actual starting of the car nor with the grounding of anything, but I could be wrong.

Sorry again. For the the length, I am just at my wit’s end, and I NEED this car to work, for work, and simply can’t figure it out. Closest diagram I’ve found online is a video on YouTube with a 98 automatic cavalier, and it has 4 wires going to starter, so that’s what I followed, and just thew the extra small on the only one it would fit. If I leave one of the smalls off, it does not crank or anything, so it seems they are both needed…why 5 wires?!? Input or assistance of ANY kind greatly appreciated, thank you!

It sounds like you are in over your head. Stop messing with it or you may end up literally burning it down. You need someone with a wiring diagram and the ability to decipher it.

I appreciate that, and respect your thought that I am in over my head, and you are quite possibly correct. My issue though, is that I don’t have the option to just give up. Money is my problem there, or I would gladly bring it to a mechanic to fix it.

Any chance you have heard of five wires going to a starter before? It does have an aftermarket stereo, but I’m unsure if that would be related.

Or can you point me in the right direction to find wiring diagrams for any given car?

Google will find a lot for you

Since you have a manual transmission you can get a push to move the car and pop the clutch to start it. The car is light enough that one person could push it and jump in the drivers seat. The dilemma is to park in a spot that is easy to push out of or on a hill, and you have to be quick and nimble

A factory service manual is best for accurate wiring diagrams. You may be able to use this if the wiring hasn’t been butchered. You may have an extra “large” wire. Do any of them look like they aren’t factory-made?

The diagrams in the factory manual only show 3 wires to the starter, as shown in the picture posted by @NYBo above. The big wire with big ring comes from the battery. The smaller wire with the big ring is a fusible link that is the charging wire from the alternator. The small wire with the small ring is the start wire, coming from the ignition switch via the neutral safety switch (or clutch pedal position switch for a manual trans.) I have no idea what the extra 2 wires are from. Are there any aftermarket add-ons for which somebody may have tapped power from the starter battery terminal?

There is also sometimes a large ground wire.

The '99 Cavalier didn’t have a starter relay. The starter solenoid was wired from the ignition switch. I just remembered that in mid 2001, Chevy added a separate starter relay to the Cavalier, and I believe there were retrofit kits available to outfit the earlier Cavs with a relay. I don’t know how those kits were wired, but it’s possible the extra wires at the starter are part of a retrofit.

Yes, there is even the “purple” wire that someone on reddit told me to check, but…the purple wire sort of comes out of that same bunch where the two wires that go on the top post are coming from (in that diagram), and then it simply turns back around and go a different direction!

There is an after market stereo. And I know 4 wires even is odd, but I have found that video of a guy replacing his 98 cav with four wires so possibly one is just an extra for the stereo? I did not hook it up, car came with it, but probably worth mentioning that even with everything BUT the starter turning on, the stereo does NOT turn on either…

That purple wire is the start wire from the ignition switch. If that wasn’t connected to the starter, and if it was redirected somewhere else, that reinforces my thought above that this car may have been retrofitted with a separate starter (or crank) relay. Try to trace where that purple wire is going to see if there is a relay at the end of it.

Awesome! I love getting clues haha I’m sure you maybe probably understand working on a damn starter for weeks, thanks man! If I find that it DOES lead to a relay, what then? And it bump started like a charm going maybe 3 mph so I can actually work on it like I want to now

If you find that it does have a relay, you can then trace the whole relay circuit(s) to figure out which wire to connect to the starter solenoid start terminal.