Dodge Viper 3rd Generation 2003-2006 (ZB l) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used Viper 3rd Gen

Read in this article:

3rd Generation Dodge Viper What Owners Say

  • The V10 is characterful and robust, so long as you ensure that it is well maintained. Compared to the motorsport-derived 10-cylinder plants used by some of its European rivals, this engine appears to stand the test of time.
  • The 3rd-gen Viper lacks driver assists such as traction and stability control. It is an incredibly tricky car to drive fast, but once you master its intricate handling characteristics, it provides a rewarding driving experience - for the skilled pilot.
  • The interior may be compact and features a vast array of plastic, but thanks to some leather and aluminum touches, it feels a bit classier than the Vipers that came before. Overall quality is good, and creaks and rattles are minimal.
  • Most of the ZB I-generation Vipers were produced in roadster guise, which tends to suffer from canvas-roof issues following prolonged exposure to the elements. This will lead to water leaks.
  • Due to thin seats and a harsh ride, the Dodge Viper can be a rather uncomfortable ride.
  • The third-generation Dodge Viper is a compact sports car, so taller folk may feel a bit claustrophobic. The roadster, in particular, also offers very little cargo space, so weekend getaway trips may present a challenge.

Dodge Viper Third Generation Facelift

The gen-3 Dodge Viper only ran for four model years and was never facelifted. The ZB II generation could technically be considered a facelift, but that model retains the same visuals yet with extensive mechanical enhancements.

2003-2006 Viper ZB l Front View Dodge
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Front View
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Rear View Dodge
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Rear View
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Side View Dodge
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Side View
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Interior View Dodge
2003-2006 Viper ZB l Interior View

Engine, Transmission and Drivetrain

At the belly of this beast is the large naturally aspirated 8.3-liter odd-firing V10 with two different states of tune for the coupe and roadster. It is available with only one transmission option - a six-speed manual.

8.3L V10 Gas OHV Viper
500/510 hp | 525/535 lb-ft
500/510 hp
525/535 lb-ft
Six-speed manual

The 8.3-liter OHV V10 found in the 3rd-gen Dodge Viper is an evolution of the previous 8.0-liter unit consisting of a series of changes that brings its power output up to 500 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque for the convertible and 510 hp and 535 lb-ft for the coupe. This is transmitted to the rear wheels via a Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission which is capable of propelling the hardtop model from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds. A Hydra Lok limited-slip differential adds to its handling capabilities. The engine retains its aluminum construction with pushrod-actuated overhead valves and multi-point fuel injection. Thanks to this simple layout, the 10-cylinder unit is relatively reliable compared to its more intricately engineered European peers.

2003-2006 Third Gen Dodge Viper Real MPG

The EPA only provided mpg estimates for the third-gen Viper roadster, as the coupe was technically a special edition that was only available in its final year of production. With an 11/19/13 mpg city/highway/combined estimate, the 3rd-generation Viper is not what you would call a fuel saver. The C6-generation Chevrolet Corvette with its 505 hp 7.0-liter V8 scores 15/24/18 mpg estimates, which are far better. The Ferrari F430, on the other hand, achieves a very similar 11/16/13 mpg with its 503-hp 4.3-liter V8 and six-speed manual transmission.

EPA mpg (city/highway/combined)Real-world combined mpg*
8.3L V10 Gas11/19/13N/A

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.


The NHTSA did not crash test the Dodge Viper 3rd-generation, which is common for performance cars of this caliber. Safety is catered for marginally with the standard inclusion of only driver and passenger airbags, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, tire-pressure monitoring, and child-seat anchors located on the passenger seat. There is no sign of stability control.

3rd Generation Dodge Viper ZB l Trims

The 2003-2006 third-generation Dodge Viper coupe and roadster are only available in SRT-10 guise and even though it is a flagship model, it has a very short list of standard convenience and comfort features. It is clear that there is an unrelenting focus on maintaining a driver-focused ownership experience.

In 2004, the Dodge Viper ZB l was available with a limited-run special package, in effect the only special edition of the ZB I Viper:

  • 2004 Mamba package. Limited to just 200 units, this gave the sports car a unique Viper Black or White body paint with a black soft-top roof and two-tone black and red leather upholstery for the interior. It also features special 18-inch front and 19-inch rear alloy wheels with red brake calipers.
8.3L V10 Gas
6-Speed Manual

The ZB I Viper SRT-10 has a short list of standard features as comfort and convenience features, including an AM/FM radio with a six-CD audio changer connected to a seven-speaker surround sound audio system with a 310-Watt amplifier, air conditioning, electrically operated heated door mirrors and one-touch windows, and remote keyless entry with push-start ignition.

Third Generation Dodge Viper Features

Back-Up CameraN/A
Bluetooth ConnectionN/A
Leather SeatsS
Apple CarPlayN/A
Keyless EntryS
Keyless StartS
HD RadioN/A
Alloy WheelsS

Interior, Trim And Practicality

Dodge Viper 3rd Gen Interior Overview Dodge
Dodge Viper 3rd Gen Interior Overview

The third-generation Dodge Viper is as compact as sports cars get with both the coupe and roadster having a headroom figure of 36.5 inches and legroom of 42.4 inches. This provides just about enough room for people a bit over six feet tall. The 3rd-gen Viper convertible offers owners a minute 8.6 cubic feet of cargo space, allowing you to squeeze in two medium suitcases. Thanks to the 3rd-gen Viper coupe fastback hatch and lack of a folding roof, it offers a more generous 14.7 cubic feet of space, which is more than what you'll need to carry two medium suitcases with some space to spare for a weekend away.

The ZB I features partial leather and microfiber upholstery for the seats, steering wheel, gear shifter boot, and other select cabin trimmings. This is contrasted by a combination of soft and hard plastics and a slick aluminum finish for the six-speed gear shifter and door handles. While it may not appear as fancy as its European rivals, owners of the ZB I Dodge Viper praise it for its respectable cabin quality but it has been criticized for below-average comfort. It is available exclusively with a black interior color scheme.

Leather SeatsS

2003-2006 Dodge Viper Maintenance and Cost

The third-generation Dodge Viper is a hands-on vehicle when it comes to routine maintenance. An oil and filter change is required every 6,000 miles. The rear axle's fluid needs to be changed every 18,000 miles. An air filter change and relubrication of the front and rear suspension ball joints must be conducted every 30,000 miles. 36,000 miles is when you will have to change the manual transmission's fluid. New spark plugs, ignition cables, brake fluid, clutch fluid, and an accessory drive belt are needed every 60,000 miles. Engine coolant must be flushed and refilled at 102,000 miles or 60 months. On average, you may spend up to $450 on routine maintenance costs for the Viper on an annual basis. Bear in mind that this is a high-performance sports car, so mechanical components such as the clutch, brakes, and more will add thousands of dollars to your repair bill.

Dodge Viper 3rd Gen Basic Service

The third-generation Dodge Viper has a fairly large oil capacity, but an oil and filter change should cost no more than $123. A new set of spark plugs should cost $70 and an air filter $70 as well.

3rd Gen Dodge Viper Tires

Front Tire Size:
Front Wheel Size:
18" x 10.0"
Rear Tire Size:
Rear Wheel Size:
19" x 13.0"
Spare Tire:

Check Before You Buy

There are only four 2003-2006 Dodge Viper recalls. All model years were subject to two recalls for inadvertent airbag deployment relating to a bad module that incorrectly detects a collision. 1,739 2003 models were recalled for a park light switch that may corrode. 69 2003 units had to be recalled for fuel-pump wiring that could come into contact with the underbody heat shield, which may cause the pump to fail and the engine to stall. If you ever encounter the P0141 fault code, it means that there is an issue with an oxygen sensor's heated circuit.

Dodge Viper 3rd Gen Common Problems

Convertible Soft-Top Problems

The majority of the ZB I Viper models were sold as soft-top convertibles, which means they may suffer from general wear and tear, particularly so if you subject it to harsh weather and the elements on a frequent basis. If you want to prolong the life of the Viper's canvas roof, always ensure that it is parked in an environment where it's not exposed to the elements, such as a garage or covered parking. If you don't have access to this, it is best to consider a weather-resistant body-fitting car cover. It is also strongly advised that you approach washing the canvas top with care and opt for special detergents designed to not be corrosive on the material. Also, consider protecting it with a water-resistant silicone spray. If your roof is too far gone, it will have to be restored by a canvassing expert. Some roadster owners have noted an issue with water leaks from the top and side of the curtains that tends to occur after 24,000 miles. This is likely due to a poor pair of side rails located on the folding mechanism of the canvas roof. Replacement parts are available specifically to resolve this.

Mileage: A deteriorating canvas roof is more dependent on the environment it is subjected to rather than the distance it covers. Weak curtain roof rails may surface after 24,000 miles.

Cost: Recanvasing the convertible roof is likely to cost in the region of $1,500. A new set of roof rails will cost $670, excluding the cost of labor.

How to spot: Cracks and a generally bad condition of a soft-top roof will lead to interior water leaks. Weak side rails will also have the same result.

8.3-liter V10 Common Problems

An intake manifold gasket can start leaking after 11,000 miles. This is an issue that was more prevalent in the second-generation Viper, but the issue seems to have made its way through to a small number of units of the ZB I generation. You're more likely to experience this if your car is used in colder environments. You'll know when you notice unstable engine idling, coolant and oil leaks, and the illumination of the Check Engine light. The Viper's 8.3-liter V10 is generally a sound engine that should be problem-free if you ensure that the maintenance schedule is strictly followed. The small community of ZB I owners across the country stands by its reliability so long as it is never over-exerted. What you need to be aware of is its propensity to consume oil, so be sure to regularly check the levels. This should be done when the car is parked on a level surface and the engine has cooled down. One of the apparently normal 2003-2006 Dodge Viper acceleration problems is an uncomfortable clunk in the driveline, also heard when decelerating. This characteristic is apparently considered normal, as this is just the sound of the beefy heavy-duty clutch releasing.

Mileage: Intake manifold gasket leaks are likely to occur on cars that traverse colder environments as soon as 11,000 miles.

Cost: Replacing the intake manifold gasket on the ZB I Dodge Viper can cost $745.

How to spot: unstable engine idling, coolant, and oil leaks, and the illumination of the check engine light will indicate a leaking intake manifold gasket.

Less Common Problems And Problem-Free Areas

Considering that the ZB I Dodge Viper was sold in such small numbers and owners tend to drive them over shorter distances compared to run-of-the-mill commuters, few issues have surfaced thus far. Based on this, it is unlikely that you will have problems with the 2003-2006 Dodge Viper's ordinary parts, such as the air filter, gas tank, or fuel pump.

Which One To Avoid

It would be best to avoid the 2003 and 2004 models as these were subject to the most recalls. You should also ensure that the car you are looking at has not skipped any routine servicing whatsoever and avoided as much track use as possible. You should also steer clear of examples that have spent a lot of time parked in the open.

Which One To Buy

2005 and 2006 Dodge Viper ZB I models would be your best bet as they were only subject to the airbag recalls. Most of the models you come across should have covered relatively low mileages. Ensure that examples you considered have been subjected to very little or no track time. You also need to run a fine-tooth comb over the car's maintenance history to ensure that it has been well looked after as per the manufacturer's maintenance requirements. The coupe would be the body style of choice because of the hardtop's additional torsional rigidity and the fact that it does away with the canvas roof's woes, but these are harder to find because they were produced in small numbers.

3rd Gen Dodge Viper (ZB l) Verdict

The third-generation Dodge Viper is a generally undervalued example of the nameplate's short lineage because it doesn't have the exclusivity of the first- and second-generation models or the power of the fourth- and fifth-generation models. Putting this aside, the ZB I is no less a Viper than the rest of its brethren as it features a dependable V10 powertrain, head-turning exterior design, and rewarding - if fearsome - handling characteristics. Bear in mind that it is a high-performance sports car, so using it as a daily driver may not be in your best interest as you may struggle with its tight interior packaging, low comfort levels, and high gas consumption.

To Top