Very little has gone wrong with the 1997 Chev Cavalier and it's now the year 2015. I love this car! It has always started at the first click of the key and was extremely reliable (mind you I am also a stickler on using synthetic oil). The car has never let me down or left me stranded, and I never even warmed it up before starting on cold winter days. This is the second Chev I have owned in my life and I loved both! Had this one for a few years and the maintenance charges were also very low; mind you I treated it well too, and didn't drive at ridiculous speeds with it and plugged it in in cold weather.
The car uses special keys which must be cut by VIN. You can get $5 duplicates made at a store which will unlock he doors, but rarely will they work in the ignition. It's good to get a few spares made though because I often locked myself out when it was running, forgetting which way the lock should be.
One tiny problem with the Chev in those years was that it seemed to have a rather common problem with sensor lights sticking. If you want to replace the sensor panel, that isn't very expensive though, especially if you get it done by a private mechanic. I never bothered. Note that if a sensor light comes on, it may stay on for a little while sometimes even if the problem is fixed. It can be a little sticky.
For a while the car was heating up occasionally and this concerned me, but the Chev company suggested the coolant be topped up about 1/2 inch above the line. Apparently, different sizes of coolant bottles were available for the 1997 Chev, and the bottle in this car wasn't the proper size, so that was the reason it needed the extra 1/2 inch. Never had a heating problem again after that.
This was one of the most reliable cars I ever owned, specially for its age. The style is also very nice still, and the viewing when backing up is exceptional. It also has a serpentine belt, which saves you the high expense of maintaining timing belts. A friend of mine spent $3000 on a new car. The person who sold it to him told him the timing belt had just been replaced. The person lied so his entire beautiful car was completely destroyed within a few weeks after purchase. That's the beauty of buying cars with serpentine belts instead.
This car sometimes has problems with the ABS light turning on or off, although the brakes have been checked several times and dealers could find nothing wrong. The ABS brakes are noisy but work fine. Sometimes in winter they may be especially noisy for the first minute or so of driving, especially on very cold days (maybe a bit of ice around the brake causes that). That scared me at first, but dealers said not to worry because the brakes were fine.
Just sold the car, but it was hard to part with because it had always served me so well, was cheap to maintain and had amazing gas mileage! The transmission never gave me problems either. It was such a dear friend -- sweet, loyal, good looking, and very reliable!
Unfortunately I'm getting older now and one day damaged my legs getting into it. Because of its sports-like design, it can be hard for seniors to bend their legs right to climb into it. Made the mistake of buying a Toyota SUV, which is nice but not nearly as much fun to drive as the Chev with its great viewing and exceptional gas mileage. In a couple of years, I'll likely trade the Toyota in for a third Chev.