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Help, 1991 Chevy Cavalier doesn't start

05-04-2011, 06:05 AM
Over 200,000km (please don't tell me to call a wrecker)
Copper plugs approx. 2 years old
Dirty air cleaner (but not VERY dirty)
Fuse for fuel pump/injectors is not blown
Fuel filter condition (?)
Fuel pump pressure (?)
Condition of spark (?)
Haven't done a top end & tank cleaning with carb cleaner spray & kerosine in about 3 years


Quite distressed here as I volunteer for a cat shelter and a rabbit rescue, and really need my car. And thanks for
listening in advance.
All seemed normal leading up to this.
Today I was nearly out of gas, so I pulled into a PetroCan and put in $40 of the usual 89 octane. Drove back to a vet to
pick up some bunnies (10-15 mins). Then started up the car and left after maybe 20 mins. Drove another 30 mins
approx. After arriving at the barn, I shut the engine off for maybe 30 mins.

Then when I tried to start it to move it out of a friends vehicles would only crank. Cranked normal speed (not
slow sounding at all), and sounded completely normal. Just wouldn't start. Showed the usual dash lights. I didn't crank
for more than 5-10 seconds at a time, in probably 5 seperate times, with several seconds inbetween (so shouldn't have
overheated the starter). I didn't touch the throttle at first, but did so in later crankings.

Anyways there was a steep driveway outside, so a friend pushed me while I "push started it" (about another 5 mins
later). Tried it on the flat surface first, but didn't work, too slow so no surprise there. Then did it on the driveway and it
started right away. Left it running for a couple mins. Then shut it off (had to stick around anyways). But immediately
tried starting it again (with key).......and again, just the normal cranking sound. No start.

Then tried "push starting" it again soon after, although the remainder of roadway I had was not as steep as the
driveway, so it only rumbled a bit, meaning I could barely tell that it was running......then it stopped after 8-10 seconds.
Did it another time.....same thing. Now I could not see it being a battery problem, but.........there were some helpful lady
volunteers that insisted I try jump starting it. So I did. And when hooked up to another running vehicle, the cranking
sounded the same except.....even faster, maybe a little louder too (the best cranking ANY vehicle could hope for),
seeeeveral seconds of cranking, about same as before, on and off. Wouldn't start. Got out of vehicle, talked for a min or
two (jumper vehicle still running). Then got back in and tried started. And Immediately ran normally.
Disconnected cables after a few mins, put it into gear, moved forward and back a few feet....all normal. So reversed all
the way back into the barn to get close enough to an outlet to hook up my 10A charger.

By the way, battery is a DieHard, in normal charge, terminals look good/clean, just grey (havent removed them yet),
and is about 2 years old.

The reverse driving back into the barn took about 45 drove completely normal with nothing noticed.
Hooked it up to my charger, right away needle spazzing back and forth from the 100% mark (in the auto MF position),
which tells me it's fully charged. Left it for another hour or so. Removed the charger and tried to start up to go
home.......just cranked as before (for same amount of time, or less actually). Then hooked up the jumpers to another
volunteers running vehicle...and the thing started right away.

So..........I immediately took off for home (freaking the whole time, naturally), a 30 minute drive in the city..........and not
the slightest stutter, hesitation or anything. It was a completely normal drive home (!?). I thought it was a fuel
problem, but after that long drive? Parked it outside on the street like I have to. No hills or anything steep for me to
park on ANYwhere. I restarted right away after I was parked, and it started like normal. A few times in fact. But of
course, that didn't put my mind at ease in the least. I can't afford any car repairs whatsoever, I only work 2 payed days
a week. And I have the cat shelter to get to as usual on Thursday, day after tomorrow. I don't know what to do.

05-04-2011, 12:11 PM
If it cranks good but won't start, have a helper crank it while you visually check for spark at the plugs. If you have spark everywhere, use a gage and check fuel pressure. Some of the national brand autostores used to loan out a fuel pressure gage.

Check for any applicable mil codes. You can check those yourself.

05-04-2011, 01:10 PM
Hi, thanks so much for getting back. I will test for spark, although I'm guessing it'll be hard to see in the day and I don't have anyone to help me. I may have a spark plug tester somewhere...or I'll just use a piece of wire.

I'll call to see if some place would have a pressure guage to loan.

As for the mil codes....that I don't understand at all. I'll try looking it up to see what that involves.

Thanks. And until later.

05-05-2011, 08:26 AM
You don't have a neighbor or a friend, that can crank it for you? Not sure if you have a schrader valve to check fuel pressure. You may have to tee into the fuel supply line? Just make sure no pressure on fuel line before taking any lines loose.

As far as the codes, you can use a jumper wire between the A & B terminals at the datalink connector, usually located at lower edge of dash. After you install the jumper, turn key just till dash lites come on, no further. The cel lite starts flashing, you count the flashes to get the codes. Your looking for two digit codes.

The picture is for location of A & B terminals.

05-05-2011, 07:32 PM

The car started today. I drove to NAPA (kept the engine running). Got some new plugs, air filter and few cans of Sea Foam. Got back, shut off engine, tried starting it again 5 min later, wouldn't start. Took old plugs out (now there's yer problem!)..very worn, with a dusty whitish appearance. So I'm wondering if that HAS to be overheating also? Either way, the car starts. Not quickly, but tried several times and does every time now. Thanks!

05-06-2011, 11:17 AM
A tune-up is always a good idea. Glad you got it running.

As far as the engine overheating, does the temp gage show normal?

05-08-2011, 10:53 AM

Sorry for the delay. Thought it would notify me by email of any replies here.

Anyhow, yes the temperature guage seems normal, and.............the car is STILL screwed. I thought the new spark plugs fixed the problem, but they didn't.

But, there is a big clue now, that I'm hoping will let you figure this out............It only seems to "not start" when the engine is hot, or warm. When it's completely cold, it's always started up. That day I replaced those super bad plugs, it would restart every time. I had changed the plugs after a 3hr 15min cooldown. And the valve cover was still "warm" to the add another 20 mins or so for me changing the plugs, then it started right up. Several hours later that night, it started up again normally. Then 7 more hours after that, it started up again (to go home).

So, then comes Saturday, it started up normally (cold of course), I then drove for about 30 mins. Shut it off. Then one hour later I had to leave for work.....wouldn't start! *GASP!* So WTH? It wasn't the screwed plugs after all. So I got a ride to work, then after work I came back to the car (9 hrs later), guessed it, it started up.....and I just got home 15 mins ago.

So, the "rule" with this problem seems (I really hope), to be it only "doesn't start" when its warm or hot. But fine when cold. And as usual, long as it does start, it seems completely normal, with out a thing noticably wrong at all on the road. So I hope this clue tells you something, Since I ain't got a clue myself.

At this point, Do I still need to "check for spark", because, the spark is obviously normal when running (meaning, can there be an intermittent problem with having no spark ONLY during a warm startup?). And, I have not tested fuel pressure, as I have no guage and the NAPA store I tried didn't have one to lend out.


05-08-2011, 12:56 PM
When the problem occurs, if it cranks good but won't start, check for spark. You can carry a known good spark plug or spark tester in the glove box. Don't pull a plug from engine. Pull spark plug wire loose, put tester in plug wire. If plug wire is hot, use a glove. Groung metal part of tester to metal part of engine. Engine cranking, any spark?

Autozone used to loan out a fuel pressure gage, you can call and ask? Did you check for trouble codes? Anything?

05-09-2011, 12:54 PM
It started up "cold" again last night so I could drive to work. So tried restarting it there, a few seconds after turing it off, and it started......after a minute, started, 5 minutes, started............15 more minutes, didn't start (same old same old).

[So far, overnight, or 7 hrs worth of cooling down, it starts. One time only 4 hrs and it started.]

Anyways, a few hours later during a break, I tested for any codes...there were none (just kept flashing code 12 beyond three times). Then, I took my EGR valve out...........the exhaust intake tube thing (that sticks below the valve a bit), was VERY dirty with black deposits, So I sprayed it with Seafoam Deep Creep and tapped it with a small hammer. Then I looked, and the bottom of that tube was now open (could now see a space between the tube and that center pin thing), when before it was solid on the bottom with no space. Put it back on the car....and the car started (but it was about 4 hrs later though).

It didn't fix the problem though *groan*. So several hrs later at about 6AM it started up and I drove home. I notice that when idleing, I can detect no vacuum at the EGR valve (is that important?). But when I press upwards on the diaphram underneath it does the proper thing and the engine slows down. Then It also tested ok by moving up by itself when I revved up to around 2000rpm. I tested this because my manual said it could cause cranking with no start. Sorry I have not tested the "startup spark" yet. Havent had time, especially at night when I want to do it so I can see. Also after I did get home, same thing.....restarted several times within 10 minutes....but off for any longer, and it just keeps cranking.

I have no fuel pressure guage yet either, but still working on that.

Also, right after the EGR test back at home, I tested for codes again (still only code 12). Then I pulled out the fuel pump relay............and the bottom (female plug) harness connector had a knarly lump of melted but already hardened plastic, going at least half an inch down the wires on the bottom. I pulled the relay off of the harness and the brass contact blades had a lot of black stuff on them. So all I could do right then was spray some more SF Deep Creep in the female connector, plug in and remove it a few times, each time afterwards cleaning the brass contacts with a rag wrapped over a slot scewdriver. Plugged it back in.......the car started normally (this was maybe a couple hrs after I shut it off when I arrived home from work). Any idea's? (until I can do the spark and pressure test that is).

05-09-2011, 02:45 PM
You shouldn't have any egr flow at idle. Until you have time to check spark and fuel, when problem is ongoing. Not sure where to turn?

05-11-2011, 12:12 AM
No pressure gauge or spark test yet.

I did notice......the bottom of the wire harness for the fuel pump relay was melted (the plastic female block). I cut it off, and spliced connectors on the wires to plug them back to the relay individually. Guess it wasn't the problem though, as its still the same thing. I got stranded too today, and had to call a tow truck....because even though it was running, NOW it's started stalling. hadn't done that before. The BCAA guy said it's a fuel problem as he couldn't see any fuel while looking in the plenum when I was cranking it.

And, the engine does start with a bit of gas poured in the intake...but of course dies right away. So apparently that means the ignition system is in good working order (or so I read). Any idea on how much $$$ for replacing the in-tank fuel pump?

05-11-2011, 07:28 PM
About 400 bucks. An oem pump can cost a couple hundred or better, yes, you can buy cheaper pumps. A couple hundred bucks for labor.

06-05-2011, 05:16 AM
a quick question, when the car starts to die is it when you goto stop, after its heated up of course. If so does it seem to want to jump foward? If yes than have your trans checked. Idk if a manual is the same as an auto as far a a tccs is conserned but if it does what I asked about that would be my guess, just went thru it with an 89 cav

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