Diagnose my major car problem

(Fuckin’ hampsters ate this the first time. I didn’t think I could be in a worse mood but here we are)

I had a major breakdown last night. Fortunately I was able to get it to a service station but I haven’t gotten in touch with the mechanic yet (not the easiest task it seems).

The specs:
'95 purple (or pink depending on who you ask. I’m stickin with purple) Chevy Cavalier

Last Sunday night while driving home my interior lights suddenly got dimmer. A few minutes later the battery light came on. The lights did not continue to dim gradually, they just stayed at the level they were at. Occassionally the battery light would go off and they were back to normal brightness but this only lasted a few minutes.

The next day a co-worker who’s more knowledgeable about cars then me looked under the hood and suggested that the alternator belt might be slipping. This seemed supported by the fact that the light went off after idling in the day time (with the headlights off) as if it was charging the battery but not at the usual rate. Turning the radio off seemed to help as well.

So I gambled and tried to hold out until Friday (today) when I could bring my car out to a mechanic friend who lives a significant distance away. I lost.

Last night minutes after leaving work I stalled and couldn’t get it started again for a bit. Eventually it started with a large puff of smoke and the temperature gauge was in the red in a matter of minutes. I quickly shut it down to let it cool and then I tried again. Again the temp was quickly in the red. So I let it cool again and began driving a few hundred feet at a time before stopping, letting it cool while freezing my ass off, and continuing. 4 or 5 repetitions later I got it to a service station where I left it for the night.

In the 2 years I’ve owned this piece of shit, I’ve repaired or replaced the head gasket, transmission, starter, alternator, and battery.

Can someone please prepare me for the impending even worse news I’m about to get?

I’m really interested in how you got overheat conditions that quickly in the evening in New York. I had a car (coincidentally a Cavalier) that blew a coolant hose in the middle of summer and I still made it about 10 miles before I got the overheat light.

Anyhow, it sounds like a serpentine belt let go, because with the lights dimming I’m betting alternator and with the overheat I’m betting water pump, and with the two things happening simultaneously… well, even with Chevrolets I don’t believe in coincidences like that.

Definitely the belt – although there could be contributing factors, and further issues. Sometimes a belt fails because of increased loading. This can be evidence of bearing wear or failure of one of the driven devices. So, your water pump, air conditioner compressor, alternator, power steering pump, or even the belt tensioner could be bad. All should be checked by a mechanic, and replaced if necessary. Hopefully it’s not the air conditioner – if so, you can possibly elect to just remove it, as replacement is often cripplingly expensive.

Furthermore, the failures you’ve encountered can cause their own problems. Your battery may now be bad, from constant discharging with inconstant recharging. Various issues could arise from the overheating, and certainly a thorough checkout of the cooling system is in order, at least.

Seems like once a week I hear a car with a squealing belt. Such a simple problem to fix, that can cause major headaches if ignored.

The verdict is: <drum roll>

Alternator seized. Since it stopped spinning the serpentine belt burnt right up. Therefore the waterpump wasn’t pumping causing the overheat.

In an unrelated story, I also had 2 bad tires, which has been causing the car to shimmy dramatically (this I knew about for some time).

Add on an oil change.

Total damage = $419 (fucking ouch!!)

Hope the overheat didn’t warp your head.

On the plus side, Cavs are CHEAP to replace.

I don’t think I ever fully overheated. As soon as it went into the red I shut it down.

And yeah, replacing the whole damn thing is well on the forefront of my mind. I just don’t think I can afford it just yet. My next car will either be new or only a few years old. I’m so friggin tired of the stress of dealing with expensive repairs every few months.

Just thought I’d throw in something I’ve always heard: A used car is still cheaper than a new car, even if you include the cost of repairs. So if you’re worried about spending too much money, a new car isn’t really going to help in that regard.

…especially since it sounds like a full 66.666% of it’s now new, anyway. :slight_smile:

Consider a Focus. Before anyone comes and complains here about it, do the research. It’s not in the same league as a Cavalier.

That’s true, as long as it isn’t so used that it dies on you in 2 years. But it’s moreso the stress of the repairs coming up at inopportune moments (because they always do). I likely will go with a used car, but definitely less than 5 years old.

Incidentally, I bought this car for 5,000, probably put 2500-3000 into it in 2 years in repairs. So I’m at 8,000. IIRC when I was shopping around the cheapest new Hyundai was about 11,000 so I am still ahead of the game, even with my lemon, but the Hyundai gives you a 10 year warranty. I doubt I’ll get half that out of my current car.

: anecdotal evidence :
Maybe reliable, but boy-howdy! I see me some drivers with nasty leg fractures climbing out of those when they take a hit to the front end.