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"Trac off" light comes on, temp gauge drops to 0, car starts shifting hard, then engine smokes

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Dec 3, 2015, 11:31 PM

Post #1 of 3 (824 views)
post icon "Trac off" light comes on, temp gauge drops to 0, car starts shifting hard, then engine smokes Sign In

2002 Chevy Cavalier Sedan, 2.2L

I'm having a problem that's been difficult to diagnose, and I deliver pizzas for a job, so each work day I miss is a blow to my finances. Basically, the problem is that I'm driving along normally, when suddenly the "trac off" light on the dash comes on, the temperature gauge drops to 0, and the car starts shifting hard, especially from park-drive and 1-2. What's more, if I keep driving like this, the engine starts smoking after a few minutes. Looks like it's coming from somewhere on the passenger side. I don't really know much about engines, couldn't elaborate more offhand, and it's too late to see a mechanic right now. Of course I stopped delivering pizzas once I saw the smoke, though I did limp it home on backstreets, stopping halfway through to cool off.


1: Check engine light has been on for 2-3 months (when I bought it) with 2 codes, mechanic wrote down "evap code" and "A/C [illegible] sensor." He told me the evaporation code was due to a cracked gas cap, which I replaced, and said the other one was unimportant, just related to the A/C that doesn't work. The engine light came back after clearing it, but before I changed gas caps, and I haven't had it checked since then.

2: Oil light has been coming on intermittently, not too often, but even happened on the same day I got an oil change not long ago. Happened more frequently than usual today.

3: If I turn on the heat, it sometimes goes from hot to cold.

4: Temperature gauge has been swinging around randomly since I bought the car a couple months ago, sometimes jumping up to max with a "check gages" light and then dropping more than 100 degrees a minute later. Now, when the problem is happening, it climbs to max, stays there for a bit, then drops to 0 when the "trac off" light comes on etc. I thought it had a malfunctioning sensor, but maybe there's something to it after all?

5: When the problem is happening, if I turn off the car and try to start it again shortly after, it's hard to start - cranks for a long time before turning over. Perhaps relevant: Last time it happened, I pulled over and waited ~10 minutes before starting it again. It started with all the symptoms present, but after maybe 20-30 seconds the "trac off" light and other symptoms went away. Of course the temp gauge started climbing, and it happened again shortly after.

6: It's happened on two occasions. The first time, I replaced the intake manifold gasket (think that was the one anyway, only cost $100.) There was leaking oil, which could account for the smoke, but it had some time to burn away throughout the next day, and smoking had totally stopped before it started happening the second time.

7: Replacing the gasket changed nothing at first, but after refilling the coolant it behaved like it had before these problems started. Coolant was really low at the time. After refilling coolant, car drove fine for a day. Test drove it ~15 miles on the highway that night and delivered pizzas for 5 hours the next day before problem returned. I looked in the coolant reservoir and there's still coolant in there.

8: 2 or 3 times while driving during the last day, I heard a weird sound from under the hood that sounded like a dog whimpering, or maybe someone rubbing squeaky wet plastic briefly.

Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
Tom Greenleaf profile image

Dec 4, 2015, 1:38 AM

Post #2 of 3 (812 views)
Re: "Trac off" light comes on, temp gauge drops to 0, car starts shifting hard, then engine smokes Sign In

Oh boy that's quite a list of troubles! Overheating, smoke, oil light comes on and noises not yet known.
Decision time for you. When coolant is low AT RADIATOR or overheating coolant boils and heat will about quit with a hot engine. Alone if no damage that could be reasonable but it opens the book to damage probably beyond reasonable costs to put this back to dependable order.
You may do well to just pay for a diagnostic and estimate to get this in order to help decide whether to keep this car or seek another but if another get it check out pre-purchase as to what it may need.
Arggh. You are losing money because of the car now that needs more money thrown at it or towards a better one and keep working?
Your call,


Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
Discretesignals profile image

Dec 4, 2015, 5:27 AM

Post #3 of 3 (796 views)
Re: "Trac off" light comes on, temp gauge drops to 0, car starts shifting hard, then engine smokes Sign In

I'd say it is time to take it to another repair shop before it blows up and you are walking.

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