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Vauxhall Cavalier (1988 - 1995)

Last updated 9 December 2015


Buying Guide


  • Popular, reliable, good build quality, comfortable, cheap spares, cheap servicing, cheap and easily replaced clutch.
  • Saloon 4432mm long x 1880mm (6' 2") wide (inc mirrors). Hatch 4352mm (14' 3") long. Typical weight 1200kg.
  • Relatively smooth, economical 81bhp 1686cc Japanese (Isuzu) turbodiesel engine.
  • Huge range of other engines from 75bhp 1.4 to 204bhp turbo 4x4.
  • 150bhp 2.0 16vs were a popular choice.
  • Four speed 2.0 autos had long gearing and were surprisingly economical.
  • Cheaper-to-replace ABS from 1994.


  • Stodgy handling.
  • Door mirrors are 'snap-off', not sprung.
  • Cavalier lost steering-wheel height adjustment when it gained a drivers airbag in early 1993.
  • Six-speed gearbox on 4x4 turbo fails and costs a fortune to replace.
  • Plastic fuel filler pipe between cap and tank can develop hairline cracks leading to petrol fumes entering the cabin when the tank pressurises.
  • On 2.0 16v models a problem frequently develops with the idle stabilisation control valve, necessitating the fitting of an oil separator.
  • Alternator belt passes around engine mounting which requires dismantling before it can be changed. Job is fiddly and takes a couple of hours.
  • Crankshaft position and camshaft sensors and associated wiring and connectors prone to faults. Multipin connector to ECU prone to condensation water ingress.


  • ABS light on early SRis (make sure it hasn't been disconnected). ABS pump of pre-1994 SRis is eye-wateringly expensive.
  • Look for signs of clocking as lots of 200,000-milers have received haircuts.
  • Lower front suspension arms may have been damaged by use as jacking points.
  • Creaking from steering may indicate cracks in bulkhead at base of steering column - especially on V6s. It's a £700 job to repair. Abbot Racing of Spinnels Farm, Manningtree (tel: 01255 870636) have a means of mounting the rack more rigidly, and also replacing the soft rubber suspension bushes which not only solves the problem but makes both Cavaliers and SAAB 900s steer and handle much better. Cracking of driver's side steering rack mounting means an instant MOT failure effectively rendering the car scrap. So check for any movement in this area before buying.
  • Rusts in seam on rear wheelarch.
  • GF50 plastic timing belt tensioners can fail on 16-valve engines built August 1993-January 1996. Timing belts need changing at 36,000-40,000-mile intervals. Timing belts on 4 cylinder 16v engines also drive the water pump which can shed its impeller blades and seize, throwing off the belt, so best to change water pump too. Tensioner bolt which passes through oil pump also prone to fracture, leaving belt untensioned and apt to fly off.
  • Camshaft wear on 1.6 litre 8-valve engines. Serious engine oil leaks. Track rod end wear. Shot shock absorbers.
  • Juddery braking due to warped front discs.
  • Non-fused wiring can rub against base of battery holder and cause a short.
  • Alternator may short out due to ingress of water through worn rubber steering rod sleeves.
  • Choke mechanism of 1.6 carburettor models fails: may be no more than blocked water heating passage, or may require £100 repair kit.
  • Combined alternator/brake vacuum pump of Isuzu turbodiesels is very expensive.
  • Poor starting of Isuzu diesel may indicate the need to have the valve clearances re-shimmed. ECUs of Isuzu diesels prone to failure and cost £500 to replace. But there is a DIY Fix: Remove air intake pipe (2 clips + plug), Unplug the DCU. Unbolt the DCU (4x10mm bolts). Remove the back cover of the DCU. Re-do obvious dry solder joint in middle of PCB. Re-seal DCU. Replace components.
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