In-dash cupholder was sticky from cola drippings and had to be removed, cleaned, and reinstalled. Worked fine after that.
#3 cylinder spark plug broke when I tried to replace it. I removed it, cleaned the threads, vacuumed out the shavings, and it was fine after that.
Spark plug (DIS) wires rub on the back side of the engine, causing arcing, poor performance, hard starting, and misfiring (SES light came on often). Replacing the plugs and wireset (expensive compared to some cars) solved MANY driveability problems and restored the performance to like new condition.
This car was bought new in California by the previous owner's parents when she went off to college here in Texas. She abused the car to no end, but simple detailing and catching up on maintenance made it look and run just fine.
I paid only $1000 for this car used back in 2000, because it ran roughly and the previous owner was moving back to California, had bought a LeBaron convertible she liked better, and didn't want to ship the Cavalier home.
I drove it as is for a few weeks before attempting to change out the spark plugs and this is when I found the wireset was worn out. If the wires were loomed correctly they would not have rubbed on the engine block. I wonder if this arcing is what causes the famous 2.2L head gasket problems by damaging the gasket on the back driver's side?
After fixing this, passing emissions testing, and driving it for a few months, I sold it to another Cali transplant college student for $2800. She wanted a Cali emissions car to take back with her when she graduated the next summer. Perfect.
The car had no trouble achieving the 23 city, 33 highway original EPA ratings. Over the 6000 miles I had the car, I averaged 27mpg in mostly highway, I'm late for work, get out of my way, the left lane is MINE style driving.
This was a basic model car with Air, cassette radio, power locks, tilt wheel, but no cruise or power windows. It was a light blueish teal with light gray cloth seats. The light gray velour type cloth does NOT hide stains well and is difficult to clean thoroughly. I used a self-serve car wash with a carpet shampooer and spent around an hour cleaning the carpet and seats to my liking.
This car had cheap tires but rode well and handled like I expected a small, light, cheap car to handle. Which is to say it handled much like a donkey. Stubborn, stiff, wallowy, and anything but nimble. I think the cheap tires and mileage in the 80K's had more to do with that than anything else.
The trunk is spacious enough but not outstanding. Basic (VL, some RS) models do not have an electric trunk release so you have to use the key.
I would not wish the rear seat room on any of my friends unless they are very wee (like 4'10" or 5'2" wee, and not wide either).
The front seats are acceptable but certainly not roomy or comfortable for trips of longer than 3-4 hours. Possibly Grand Am buckets would swap, and wouldn't look much different from stock if taken from a 92-95 or 86-91 Grand Am, but I guarantee they would feel better on longer trips.
When buying a 1991-1994 Cavalier, check the fluids thoroughly and if it runs roughly, check the wireset and plugs out, for they are likely the culprit. This car has a hybrid computer system, part OBD I, part OBD II. You cannot diagnose it with a paper clip in the ALDI port like earlier GM's. But the car is simple enough that it shouldn't matter. Cheap older testers with GM plugs are easy enough to find. And there are only a few dozen codes to check, it's not like OBD II where there are hundreds of possible codes.
You will see better mileage out of a 5-speed Cavalier. The automatic is a 3-speed unit, no overdrive, with a lockup that only works most efficiently under certain conditions. The harder it goes into lockup, the better. Accelerating briskly (1/3 to 1/2 throttle) to 45-50 and letting off the throttle to 1/4 or 1/3 is the best way to hit lockup good. Then you can feather off the gas until you're at the speed you want to go.