The Guide to Buying a Second Gen Dodge Viper
It’s one of the most iconic cars of the '90s—the Dodge Viper. While the Viper platform has a storied past, one thing is for sure, the 1996 to 2002 second generation cars are skyrocketing in value. Even with the surge in price, the Viper coupe (GTS) and convertible (RT/10) remain one of the best bang for your buck muscle cars in America. Recently, we pulled our ’98 Viper GTS out of storage for some much-needed service and parts updates.
While you can watch our entire Inside Line video feature on the Viper HERE, for this article, we’re focusing on some things to look for when chasing after a new-to-you second gen car. We’ll also give you a few owner tips that have helped us out over the years. Enjoy.
One of the more common trouble areas for the GEN I/GEN II 8.0L V-10 is the power steering pulley. The original pulley is plastic and can crack and/or come apart will little-to-no warning. Thankfully, there are plenty of billet aluminum pulley kits available from the aftermarket. Another must check item is the power steering fluid reservoir cap. These atmospheric vent caps can work loose or crack over time. Given the close proximity to the manifolds, a dislodged cap can create a fiery disaster under the hood in a hurry.
When these cars were new, the single most expensive item to replace was the hood. Even now, you’ll spend thousands replacing one. Be sure to inspect around the front of the hood closely. You’re looking for small or large cracks in the fiberglass. The hoods can be damaged easily if not closed properly. The key to shutting the hood is to put pressure further up the hood (directly over the hinges) and not at the nose of the hood.
Forged Vs Cast Pistons
If you plan on adding boost to your Viper find, know that cars produced after 2000 were fit with cast pistons. Before that, all Vipers had forged pistons, which were considerably stronger. While both pistons have no trouble surviving natural aspiration, if you are looking to crank up the air density, plan on investing in a forged piston set or look for a pre-2000 car.
The Viper can be difficult to get in and out of. With a little practice, you’ll get better at it. Unfortunately, the door often becomes the victim of people helping themselves in and out of the car. The result of this additional leverage is often found with worn door hinges. If the door drops down and/or drags along the sill when it’s opened, you may be in for a pricy repair.
Speaking of side sills, it’s where the catalytic converters of the car live. This area of the car gets extremely hot (as indicated by the door’s warning labels). While you’ll need to be cautious sliding in and out, for those looking at purchasing a Viper, you’ll want to check for bubbles in the paint. It’s a common issue resulting from the extreme heat in those areas. You’ll also want to peer down below the car's rocker to see if there are any tell-tell signs of track rash along the bottom. Unlike the rest of the car, which is a primarily fiberglass, the sills are comprised of aluminum.
One of the best things about the Viper is that it’s still just a Dodge. It’s very easy to work on, for the most part. If you are a DIY person, here’s something that you’ll need to keep in mind. Basic oil changes will require you to completely raise the car, not just at the front. This is due to the engine’s drain plug being at the middle of the engine, not at the back. Given these cars sit very low to the ground, it’s still a tight squeeze getting to the components below. To find the jack points of the car, look for the small U-shaped rings that sit just behind the front wheels and ahead of the rear tires.
Speaking of changing oil, these cars take a lot of it. Our ’98 calls for 8.5 quarts of 10w-30 synthetic. We’ve been using Red Line oil High-Performance oil (shown here) as well as the company's OEM Professional Series with excellent results. For an oil filter, we use a Mopar branded one. These engines produce a lot of heat. Make sure you invest in a good oil that can take the punishment.
The second gen Viper has a steel frame and over the years there is one recall that nearly all cars should have completed. It’s called the 998 recall and it reinforces the front crossmember that’s directly in front of the oil filter. When done correctly, you’ll see the two triangles on either side at the front of the crossmember.
These cars come with 450hp and 490 lb.-ft of torque. This raw power will break the tires free in the blink of an eye. None of the second gens have traction control, but post 2000, they did get ABS. Given these cars are known to lock up the right front in panic braking, it’s not a bad idea to consider going with an ABS car if you are still on the hunt.
The single best investment you can make in these cars is to purchase a set of sticky tires. Remember, there’s no traction control or ABS for the majority of the Gen I and Gen II cars and the torque on these cars is insane. Even if you have no plans on taking your car to the track, investing in a good set of tires will make the car drive better (and safer). Not soon after this ’98 was purchased, the original 17’s got replaced with a set of forged 18-inch wheels from Fikse.
Our car is currently running Nitto Tire 335/30R18 NT555R rear and 285/35R18 NT555G2s upfront. The rear tire is a DOT-compliant drag radial and a total game changer. Put a little heat in them, hammer down, and they simply stick. The front is high-performance summer tire, which absolutely helps with handling on the car. Both ride great, make truly little road noise, and give the car the planted feel it’s lacking from the factory.
Other Things to Consider
Here’s a quick list of other “good-to-know” items when shopping for these cars.
- It’s a small cabin and if you’re over 6 ft., you may want to invest in a seat lowering kit.
- The A/C is terrible in stop and go traffic. It’s OK on the highway, but these cars simply have a lot of cabin heat.
- Pre-1998 the dashboard had a matte finish that would scratch easily.
- It has a heavy clutch, but you get used to it.
- It sports an independent suspension upfront and out back.
- The original plug wires will have date codes on them. So, you can easily track that bit of maintenance history.
- Early Gen II cars had accordion-style intake tubes. Later ones are smooth. You’ll want to upgrade yours if it does not have them. They are good for around 10 horsepower.
- All Gen II cars had a six-speed manual transmission and aluminum Dana 44 rear differential.
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