I had this car from 2004-2011 and only needed to have routine maintenance done on it....until the end. The clutch blew, had it fixed cheap by a friend, a few months later the exhaust fell off. At that point, I figured it would just nickle and dime me to death so I took it to a salvage yard. In the time that I had the vehicle though, it was a great little car.
GREAT gas mileage and mechanically sound.
My biggest complaint would have been the rust, but WI winters can do that to any car that isn't garaged all the time.
If your looking for a good first car for you teenager, do not dismiss this car despite GM's reliability and quality record. I am now 23 and looking for a newer used car but I have to stand up for the Cavalier, she's been an overall great little sporty car. With the 3spd auto, (some performance mods) respectable torque, decent stock suspension, the 2.2l 2200 engine may not pump out a lot of mind blowing horsepower, but it's been a very reliable engine. Acceleration could be a bit better for its class. Awesome gas mileage (*with* performance mods!) With a WAI, catback exhaust and performance header, I get 26 city and 31 highway. The interior isn't that bad, overall pretty basic and comfortable
The trunk space is ridiculous haha. The back seat folds down completely and you can really take advantage of the car's body length! When I moved to my newer apartment, it took that car only 6 trips to fit all of my belongings (obviously not including furniture).
Bottom line, the only thing wrong with this car is it's made by a company that only seems to get Trucks and Muscle Cars built right. Had to replace the tranny $$$ but I'm pretty sure a previous owner tried to stick it in park when it was still moving, but it lasted. Cooling system is awful though.
I bought this car with 68,000 miles on it, and it was in OK condition. 4 years later I'm at 92,000 miles and I can't wait to get rid of it. I have massive oil leaks from several spots on the engine, my radiator hoses blew a few months ago and I too have headlight issues due to faulty wiring. Road/wind noise is unbearable, more so then the constant chatter of the plastic interior and rattling of the suspension. On cold and rainy days the engine tends to flood itself. ALL the seals leak in this car leading the interior and trunk to get wet. The entire electrical system in this car is horrible. Apart from the headlight problems, the electrical system tends to give out at high speeds.
It gets me from point A to point B in a loud, bouncy and uncomfortable manner. Chicago potholes are bad enough, especially in a car that gets thrown around by running over a quarter.
My car has been fine no big problems. I had to have brakes and the air went out. I keep smelling gas so if everything starts to happen then the car is falling apart. Before the gas smell the car was great.