When it comes to my Dodge Viper, the question I get asked more frequently than any other is: Can you drive it every day? I suspect this question comes primarily from people who have noticed that used Vipers are pretty cheap, and they’re wondering if they can drive one instead of a usual humdrum midsize sedan or compact crossover.
So, to answer this question, I recently submitted my Viper to a series of highly important tests. Specifically, I filmed a video where I did a bunch of everyday things with my Viper, such as placing a tiki torch inside the cargo area in a Home Depot parking lot. And now, today, right here, I’m going to answer this highly pressing question about driving the Viper every day.
To start, I’m going to address the two single most important things you’ll want to know if you’re interested in daily driving a Viper — specifically, practicality and reliability. If a car is practical and reliable, and you can afford it, that’s basically all you need for daily drivability. Sure, other stuff matters to some people — but if you want a car badly enough, you can daily drive anything that’s practical and reliable.
And so, to start off, yes, the Viper is practical. In fact, I’m stunned at just how practical it is: In the video above, you’ll see me load a bunch of stuff into the cargo area in the aforementioned Home Depot parking lot, but the truth is, it could’ve taken a lot more. This isn’t one of those cars where you have to pack light if you’re going on a weekend trip somewhere. This car can handle an impressive amount of stuff. It is, as I often remind people, really just a V10-powered hatchback.
And, yes, the Viper is reliable. Oh, sure, mine has had some issues, in the sense that it’s broken down twice in the span of roughly 1,500 miles, each time requiring a tremendously inconvenient tow. But here are two things about Viper ownership. Number one, everyone and anyone can work on it. I take my car to a place called "Tommy’s," and they were working on a dump truck when I last showed up. They have no problem fixing whatever the Viper needs. And number two: Stuff is cheap. Not surprisingly, my European sports cars have all been tremendously, wildly, laughably more expensive to own than my Dodge Viper.
Another nice thing about the Viper is that there’s a really large, active, vocal Viper community online that has answers for every issue you might encounter. For instance, my Viper broke down because the radiator failed, and then a second time because the coolant hoses failed. Not surprisingly, these are common issues — and the Viper community was quick to tell me what happened, what to do about it, and which stronger replacements I should purchase so the issue doesn’t happen again.
So it’s relatively reliable and it’s surprisingly practical. If this is all you want in a daily driver, well, look no further: The answer is yes, you can drive a Viper every day. For the rest of us …
For the rest of us, there are a few problems with daily Viper ownership. For instance, this is not a car you can drive in bad weather. Nobody makes winter tires for the Viper; in fact, it’s rare you’ll find a full set of matching tires of any kind. So if you live in any sort of cold climate where it snows any sort of measurable amount, you won’t be able to drive the Viper every day of the year.
Then there’s the whole traffic thing. I’m not a big fan of driving any sort of stick-shift cars in traffic, but especially stick-shift cars with a relatively heavy clutch pedal that includes a lot of travel. You’re on the clutch. You’re off the clutch. You’re on the clutch. You’re off the clutch. And you’re sitting so low that you’re constantly getting annoyed. WHY ISN’T ANYONE UP THERE MOVING?!?!?
Then we move on to fuel economy. Just so you go in with your eyes wide open, you’ll probably average something like 11 miles per gallon in this thing — even if you aren’t really driving it in a crazy manner. I drove it for a couple of hours around crowded Center City, Philadelphia, and I saw roughly five mpg. Five. The number after four. I am not exaggerating this in any way. So if you’re going to commute in this thing, and you’re going to sit in a lot of traffic, understand that you’re also going to sit at a lot of gas stations.
And then there’s ride quality. It’s awful. I know virtually every car enthusiast claims to be more hardcore in this area than I am, but I’ll openly admit this: I really don’t like rough cars, and the Viper is a rough car. It’s fun when you’re taking it out for a few hours on a back road and you don’t mind getting banged around a bit. It’s not so fun when you’re driving down a residential street, and there’s a speed bump, and you have to slow down to 4.7 miles per hour because otherwise your back would hurt for weeks.
And then there’s interior room. There is, of course, the obvious problem: The Viper can only hold one other person, so this isn’t a daily driver for anyone who often carries around two or more people. But there’s another issue, too: Even for the driver, there’s just not all that much space. While I have a lot of head room sitting inside my Viper, knee room is so limited that my knee actually gets in the way of using the turn signal and turning the steering wheel. If I were in an accident, I suspect my knee would not come out of it particularly well, in the sense that it occupies the area where the dashboard would want to go.
Now, just for the record, I don’t consider any of these flaws to be real legitimate flaws with the Viper. All weekend cars are rough riding, tight inside, inefficient and blah blah blah — and I love driving a stick shift for fun. I think the Viper is an excellent car, and none of these things would stop me from owning one as a fun second car. But they would stop me from owning it as a daily driver. It’s just too much of a pain to use for commuting, for traffic, for bad weather; it’s uncomfortable, loud, rough, inefficient. And if you drive a Viper every day, you no longer feel that it’s special: You start to view it as your normal, everyday, standard, traditional commuter car. And after a while, you’d start to hate it.
So, here’s my advice for you "everyday Viper" wannabes: Don’t. And that doesn’t mean "don’t buy a Viper." Buy a Viper — but use it on warm days, when there’s light traffic, for the occasional Friday commute, for fun back-road cruises. For your daily driver, get something else. Something more efficient, more practical, more comfortable, more affordable, more capable in bad weather. Maybe a Prius. That would really help you appreciate the time you spend in your Viper. Find a 1997 Dodge Viper for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.