The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Thank you for contacting the Center
for Auto Safety (CAS) about your Cavalier, Sunfire, Skyhawk, Firenza,
2000, Sunbird, or Cimarron (GM’s J-Car). CAS has received numerous complaints
on sudden acceleration, peeling paint, excessive oil and/or coolant consumption,
poor engine performance, power steering loss, and transmission failure.
Introduced in 1982 with the Cavalier, Cimarron, Firenza, Skyhawk and Pontiac
2000, the J-car holds the distinction of being the only platform shared
across all five GM car divisions. GM dropped the Cimarron and Firenza
after the 1988 model year followed by the Skyhawk after 1989. In 1995,
the Sunbird became the Sunfire just as the 2000 became the Sunbird in
The reliability of GM’s J-Cars is much
worse than average. In fact, their reliability has been so poor that all
but the 1995 Cavalier and Sunfire made Consumer
Reports’ list of “Used Cars to Avoid” since 1988. The Car Book
lists steering, fuel system, and brakes as the three most common J-Car
complaints. Engine problems, including cracked heads, surge or racing,
leaking rear main oil seals, and piston knock, have also plagued these
GM’s door-mounted “automatic” belt system
on pre-1995 vehicles cannot prevent ejection if the door opens while driving
or in a crash. CAS petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) to recall faulty “automatic” lap-shoulder belts and door
latches on 5.5 million 1987-90 GM vehicles including
the 1990 Cavalier, Sunbird. NHTSA denied CAS’ petition. In 1992, more
than 50,000 1991 Cavaliers/Sunbirds were recalled for defective shoulder
belt guide loops.
Uncontrolled acceleration is
a notorious J-Car problem that has resulted in 5 recalls of more than
300,000 vehicles. GM sent bulletins to dealers acknowledging power
steering defects in 1982-88 J-Cars, secretly extended the P/S
warranty to 5 years/50,000 miles and paid for post-warranty repairs for
those owners who complain loudly. An expensive defect on 1985-92 J-Cars
is peeling paint. At CAS’ request, GM agreed to pay for
complete repainting for paint peel and delamination through six years
and unlimited mileage but, in March 1995, GM cut this back to 5 years.
You’ll find information on these and other J-Car defects
below and what you can do about them plus a
complaint box. Your information will help
us build a strong case against GM on the defects we know about and help
us spot new ones.
We need you to support the Center for Auto Safety in our
fight for consumer rights and against poorly designed and unsafe cars.
Your contribution is tax-deductible
and entitles your to our quarterly newsletter, Lemon Times.
Please submit the membership form along with
your contribution and complaint. If you contribute $35 or more, we will send you the current edition of The Ultimate Car Book, by Jack Gillis.
Every home should have this invaluable consumer guide.
Clarence M. Ditlow
J-CAR FACT SHEET
Cavalier, Sunfire, Skyhawk, Firenza, 2000, Sunbird, Cimarron
All technical service bulletin (TSB) numbers are GM unless otherwise
Rear brake squawk &/or ABS cycling 1992-93 (235015); High
brake pedal effort 1992-93 (335010); New pads 1991-94 (43-50-06); ABS
light on 1993-95 (53-50-10); Rear brake drag, heat up 1995-97 (73-50-18);
Various noises on applying 1994-98 (73-50-25).
Vibration at idle or “clunk” at launch 1993-94 (436103); Engine/transaxle
mount replacement 1992-96 (63-61-07); Engine noise 1982-95 (37-66-02A);
Timing chain noise – replace chain 1992-97 (87-61-21A); Cold start stall,
rough idle 1995-97w/2.3/2.4L (77-61-09B); No start, service engine light
1995-96 (83-65-39A); Cold start knock, rattle, tap 1994-97 (77-60-01B);
Coolant loss 1996-97 (67-62-04). 2.2L: Hesitates/stalls on cold
acceleration 1990-91 (Chev 91-222-6E); Surge with cruise on 1996-97 w/3T40
transaxle (63-90-13); Spark plus wire failure warranty extended to 7 years/70,000
miles 1998-99 (00C032) 2.8L-V6: Throttle position sensor
replacement 1989-90 (Chev 90-83-6E); 3.1/3.4L-V6: Oil
odor – replace rear main bearing seal 1990-94 (87-60-02A); Metallic noise
or cold rap on cold starts 1995-98 w/2.2L (63-66-04B).
Bumps/rust spots 1994-99 (43-17-01B). For more information, go
Right axle oil seal leaks 1992-94 (477133); Reduced power assist
at low temperatures 1994 & prior (033206); P/S shudder 1992-93 (333212A);
“Crunch” from dash when turning 1991-94 (43-32-11); Intermittent steering
column snap or click 1994-96 (56-32-02A); Steering column “popping” 1992-93
(333210A); Vehicle lead or pull 1992-94 (333213); Front suspension squawk
1993-94 (73-33-01A); Rear shock lumber noise 1995-97 (73-34-03); Knock
at low speeds on rough roads 1995-96 (53-32-02B). For info on 1982-88
P/S loss, send 55Â¢ SASE to: CAS-GM P/S at address below.
Grinding &/or growling while in “Park” & on incline 1992-95
(57-71-13). Both 440-T4 automatic over drive [AOD] & 125-C A/T are
prone to failure. For more information, see GM Transmission Page.
Slow defrost of W/S 1991-93 (331222A); Horn pad not properly retained
1992-94 (433202 & 53-32-04); Ignition switch doesn’t return to “Run”
after start 1991-94 (433203); Battery run down &/or interior lights
remain on 1992-94 (43-81-01B); No start, battery run down or blown fuse
1986-94 (438118); Temperature gauge fluctuates 1992-94 (478101); “Clicking”
from front &/or rear of vehicle 1994-95 (53-35-02); Low voltage reading
or dim lights at idle 1990-95 (43-64-07); “Buzzing” when defogger On 1989-94
(43-81-35); Water leak 1988-94 (43-15-11); A/C odor at start up 1993-96
(53-12-12); Loose/missing center caps on aluminum wheel 1995-96 (53-35-03);
Replacement of W/S wiper/washer nozzle 1995-96 (53-82-08); Rattle/clunk
&/or vibration 1995-96 w/2.2L/2.4L (63-20-03); Weak battery/generator,
slow starting 1997-98 (83-64-16); Water leak into PCM, no start 1995-96
(83-65-39A); Door rattle when window down 1995-97 (73-10-69); Muffler
thumps 1995-98 (83-66-01).
Copies of recalls can be obtained from
NHTSA’s Technical Reference Division at 202-366-2768.
675,302 1996-97 Cavalier, Sunfire – Inadvertent deployment (98V-146).
1,470 1987 Skyhawk, Cavalier, Firenza – Parking brake (86V-128); 1,000+
1993 Cavalier, Sunbird – Rear hose (93V-121).
100,000+ 1987 Skyhawk, Sunbird, Firenza – Fuel feed/return lines leak
(87V-184); 15,000+ 1984 6000 – Throttle body injection fuel feed pipe
connection leaks (85V-034); 10,000+ 1989 Cavalier, Sunbird, Skyhawk w/2.0L/2.8L
– Fuel tank leaks (88V-189); Engine air cleaner plastic trim falls onto
exhaust manifold: 87,174 1985 Cavalier, Cimarron, Firenza, Skyhawk w/2.0L
engine (86V-073), 34,331 1985 Cavalier (85V-042); 385 1998 Cavalier
– CNG refueling label inaccuate (99V-180).
20,000+ 1986 2000, Cimarron – Headlight switch fails, lights flicker &/or
go out (86V-131); 4,036 1986 Skyhawk – Incorrect tail lamp lens (85V-149);
216 1986 Firenza – Right rear tail lamp (86V-062); 14,840 1988 Cavalier,
Sunbird – Back-up or license plate lamps (88V-095); 150,000+ 1995-96 Cavalier,
Sunfire – Hazard warning lamps (96V-250); 50,000+ 1996 Cavalier, Sunfire
– Interior lights come on unexpectedly (98V-027); 20,000 2000 Cavalier/Sunfire
– Instrument panel backlighting goes off (99V-218).
1,136,407 1983-84 Skyhawk, Cimarron, Cavalier, Firenza, Sunbird – Driver’s
seat suddenly reclines (87V-079); 50,000+ 1991 Cavalier, Sunbird – Front
door shoulder belt loops crack (92V-003); 41,718 1991 Cavalier, Sunbird
– Front door frame collapses & shoulder belt anchorage fails (91V-165).
27,083 1996-97 Cavalier, Sunfire – Rear suspension arm bolt failure (98V-319);
21,340 1995 Cavalier, Sunfire – Lower control arm failure (95V-025); 65
1995 Cavalier, Sunfire – Front wheel assembly separates (94V-115).
Acceleration: 126,319 1983 Cavalier, 2000, Firenza, Skyhawk,
Cimarron – Throttle jams open (87V-165); Throttle sticks open in cold
weather: 65,594 1987 Cavalier (87V-011) & 108,898 1992-93 Sunbird
(93V-190); Accelerator cable sticks or breaks: 22,452 1992 Sunbird (92V-048)
& 360 1996 Cavalier, Sunfire (95V-201).
33 1988 Cavalier, Sunbird – W/S separates (88V-121); 3,212 1992 Cavalier,
Sunbird – Hood flies up (91V-166); 16 1995 Cavalier, Sunfire – Welds omitted
from “B” pillar (95V-141); 28,068 1995 Sunfire – Transaxle gear selector
position not visible (96V-003); 50 1997 Cavalier – Incorrect W/S wiper
blades (96V-160); 652 1997 Cavalier, Sunfire – Compact spare loses air
(97V-106); 8 1997 Cavalier, Sunfire – Bad welds at left rocker panel (98V-032).