(add) In diagnosing a misfire condition in my 97 cavalier I found that the MIL light (check engine light) came on with the misfire condition. It (acording to code guide in SnapOn scan tool) flashes when the misfire is serious enough to damage the catalytic converter. Suggesting that the light being on is a problem and a flashing light means drive it to the shop (or not at all)..
I am not really sure but I know that if you go to an Autozone store, they have scanners that they can connect to your car and check what the problem is. I did this with my car, but I know that the scanner does not work on really old cars. They can check why the light is that way and they recommend what you can do to fix the problem. This service is offered for free.
I Have a 1999 cavalier if the check engine light comes on and stays on it indicates a problem with the emissions control system.
If the light is flashing it indicates a misfire.
the check engine light is on in my car and i have had it on the scanner and it is caused by a bad seal in the gas cap which is one of many causes so either way have it checked to determine the cause.
here is a link to the owners manual for the 1999 which should be the same for the 1997 for the check engine light.
look at pages 134-137 is explains the meaning of the light.
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