The Chevy Cavalier became one of the best-selling automobiles during its production cycle in the United States. Its production cycle ran from 1982 through 2005. There are several reasons a Cavalier may overheat: low coolant or oil levels or if the engine is stressed under load. Finding the possible cause requires looking at a few different areas in your 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier.
Coolant and Temperature
Look for the "Coolant" light and temperature gauge on the dashboard. If the "Coolant" light comes on and does not turn off, this is a warning that the car may be low on coolant. If the needle on the temperature gauge is leaning more towards the "Hot" side, this is also an indication that the coolant levels are low.2
Pull over to the side of the road and turn off the engine. Let it cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. Overheating can occur while driving up a hill or running the air conditioner.3
Lift the hood and check the coolant fluid level. The coolant tank is located on the front passenger's side in the engine compartment. If the fluid is boiling, do nothing until it cools down. Once the coolant is safe to check, note if the coolant is at the "Cool/Full" line on the tank. If it is not, this may be an indication of a leak in the cooling system. Call for a repair service to assist you further. If it is a small leak, fill the reservoir with coolant or water and drive the car to a service station for repairs.
Check the "Oil" light on the dashboard and notice where the needle is pointing. If it is leaning towards low, the engine oil may be low which can lead to overheating.5
Pull over to the side of the road, turn the engine off for at least 15 minutes to cool the engine down then lift the hood.6
Pull the dipstick out of its holster and wipe it with a clean rag. The dipstick is typically located in the center of the engine behind the oil cap.7
Reinsert the dipstick, pull it out again and note if the oil is at the "Full" or "Add" mark. The "Add" mark indicates that oil needs to be added. Replace the dipstick and add engine oil to the "Full" mark. Also, note if the fan is running if the car overheats. If the fan does not come on, call or take your car in to an auto service shop to determine the cause of the engine overheating.