A few weeks ago, my niece’s 1997 Chevy Cavalier was broken into. Luckily, they didn’t break any windows or the locks in the process, but the thief did manage to break the cigarette lighter in the car. He ripped a charger out, and somehow managed to pull the whole car charger / cigarette lighter assembly apart.
Naturally, she came to me and asked me to fix it. After a little research, I determined it wouldn’t be that tough of a job. It turned out I was right, and after a quick trip to Autozone and about a half hour of careful disassembly, I had a new car charger in place. Here are some tips and instructions to help you do the same.
A Quick Overview
First, let’s talk about the general procedure. The cigarette lighter I was working on was the one just to the right of the steering column (other Cavalier models have a second cigarette lighter / car charger down by the passenger’s feet; that’s a whole nother story). This procedure is similar to what you would do if you wanted to install an after-market radio. You need to gain access to the same general areas beneath the dashboard.
First, you’ll need to remove the top of the dashboard. This may seem daunting, but it’s actually pretty simple once you know where all of the screws are.
This will open up access to the dashboard panel that surrounds the steering column. You need to remove this as well.
Finally, you can remove the old cigarette lighter and install a new one. Reverse the process, screw everything down tight, and you’re good to go.
Removing the Top of the Dashboard
There are a number of screws holding the top of the dashboard in place. You simply need to go through and remove them all, and then carefully lift the top of the dashboard out.
Start with the vent on top of the dashboard, by the windshield. There should be one phillips head screw holding that into place. Once you’ve removed the screw, carefully remove the vent; there are two tabs that also hold it into place. This will reveal two more screws that you can unbolt with a 7mm socket (all of the bolts use the same size socket).
Next, open the driver’s side door. There’s a panel on the side of the dashboard (the larger panel, not just the door to the fuse box) that you can simply pull out and remove. Once you remove it, you should see a pair of screws securing the top of the dashboard from the side. Repeat the process with the passenger side door, although I think there’s only one screw over here.
Now, open the glove box. Inside the glove box, there is an opening in the top that reveals a brass colored bracket. There should be two screws; remove those. These are kind of deep in the opening, and you’ll probably need some kind of extension for your socket wrench. Finally, near the top of the opening of the glove box (where the door meets the dashboard), there should be three more screws. Go from left to right, and carefully remove all of the screws you see.
There should now be nothing but some clips holding the top of the dashboard in place. Carefully lift it upwards and remove it from the car. If you feel resistance in a certain area, check to see if there’s a tab holding it in place or if you missed a screw. I missed one screw (by the driver’s side door), and it snapped the plastic when I removed the dashboard. One screw isn’t a big deal, but if you break too many of these connections you’ll have a hard time securing the dash when you’re done.
Remove the Dash Panel from the Steering Column
Once you remove the top of the dash, be careful not to do anything silly with the airbag. You don’t want to puncture it and/or set it off. It’s got warnings on it for a reason.
You should be able to look down into where the cigarette lighter is connected, just to the right of the steering column. That panel to which the cigarette lighter is attached is secured with a series of screws along the top. Carefully follow from the driver’s side door to the middle of the dash, and remove all of the screws (there should be four).
Once the screws are gone, you can carefully lift the panel up a bit and pull it out. You don’t need to completely remove it; just pull it out far enough that you can reach behind and work on the cigarette lighter.
Remove and Replace the Old Cigarette Lighter
I went to Autozone and picked up a universal cigarette lighter / car charger for GM vehicles. On the back, it listed a whole bunch of manufacturers and years that the piece would work on. It cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.99. I could have ordered an OEM part, but that was a special order and slightly more expensive. So a nice, basic, universal part worked just fine!
The cigarette lighter has two parts. It’s basically two metal tubes, where one screws into the other. At the back of the cigarette lighter, there’s a small copper bit that sticks out, and this connects to the wiring assembly in the car. To remove the old lighter, first carefully pull off the wiring assembly. Then, try to hold the front part of the cigarette lighter (the part in front of the dash) still and unscrew the back portion (the part behind the dash). The two pieces will separate, and you can then remove them from the dash.
Finally, take the new part out of the packaging and unscrew it. Fit the two pieces around the dashboard, just like the old piece was. Screw it down tightly with your fingers, and firmly press the wiring assembly onto the brass bit at the back of the lighter. Grab a random car charger and make sure everything is working, and then you’re good to go for re-assembly!
Place the dash back around the steering column and secure it with the screws at the top. Replace the top of the dash and carefully press it into place. Once you secure it with all of the screws, it should sit flush again and look as good as new. Finally, put the vent back into the dash, and enjoy the new car charger!
In my research I read somewhere that the job was a pain and you should have a professional do it. Sounds to me like that person was a professional looking for some extra work. If you’re careful and methodical about removing all the screws, you should have no problems disassembling and re-assembling the dash. The whole process took me about thirty minutes, and I’ve never taken the dash off a Cavalier before.