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1997 Chevrolet Cavalier:
Sudden Stop, Rear End Lifted, Puddle of Fluid

By
Alex Steele
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Question:

 

My daughter is having problems with her 1997 Chevy Cavalier (110,000 miles). Yesterday as she was accelerating after a turn, her car came to a sudden stop, as if she had slammed into a wall. The person behind her said that the rear end of her car lifted up as if she had slammed on her brakes.

 

The tires will rotate, but the vehicle will not move. The engine starts up fine. We noticed a puddle underneath her car that looks like oil after we had it towed home, and the car does appear to be a little low on oil. We had the transmission flushed and all fluids changed at about 90,000 miles, and she changes the oil regularly.

 

She did, however, go into a ditch about three months ago when she swerved to avoid an accident. Do you have any advice on where to start troubleshooting?

 

Answer:

 

The rear end lifting up indicates a major lockup at the front axle. A Chevy Cavalier is front-wheel drive with a transverse mounted engine and an automatic transaxle, which means the transmission and final drive (differential and gears) are combined as one unit. The front axles come straight out of the transaxle to drive the front wheels.

 

That puddle under the car is most likely transmission fluid, and directly above it you'll find the damage. It may not be a pretty site. An axle could have become dislodged from the transmission while accelerating into the turn, and then bound up in the front suspension and locked up a wheel.

 

This can happen for a couple of reasons, one being front suspension damage which has increased the distance between the transmission and a front hub, where the axles attach to the front wheels. Another possibility is a catastrophic internal failure of the transaxle, more than likely at the final drive. The explosion may have locked up both front wheels and cracked open the aluminum case of the transaxle. As I said, it might get ugly.

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