Back in the early to mid-2000s there were a whole range of performance cars available, however, budget friendly ones were few and far between. That’s where Dodge came in with their Neon SRT-4. While the Neon name doesn’t evoke performance, the SRT-4 was anything but a slouch and it became an icon of the 2000s street-racing scene.
Many of the Neon SRT-4s competitors have gone on to become real collectors’ items, but with a price to match. If you are looking for a mid-2000s performance car and don’t want to break the bank, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 could be just what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, a massive number of these cars are well past there prime, so it is important to know how to spot a bad one. In this buyers guide we are going to point out the things you need to watch out for when purchasing a Neon SRT-4, along with how to get yourself the best deal. We will also look at the history of the car and its specifications as well.
How to Use this Dodge Neon SRT-4 Buyer’s Guide
This is a long buyer’s guide, so make sure you use the table of contents to skip to the section you want to read (or just read it all). To start with we will cover the history and specifications to give you a bit of background info about the Neon SRT-4. Following those two sections we will dive into the buyer’s guide section of this article. To finish off we will look at more general car purchasing advice that applies to any used vehicle purchase.
The History of the Dodge Neon SRT-4
The original Neon concept car was first unveiled in 1991 under the Dodge brand. While the concept with its sliding suicide doors was clearly not ready for production, it did closely resemble the final production model.
When the full production model was finally introduced in 1994 it was sold under three different brands, Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler. The car received praise for its appearance, price and power when compared to the competition and its sales performance justified the development of a second generation.
Second Generation Neon
Production of the second gen Neon started in 1999, with sales starting with the 2000 model year. This time, the Neon was only available as a four-door sedan and the two-door coupe option was deleted for the generation.
Overall, the second generation car was more refined than the first gen model. The exterior was updated, and the first generation’s frameless windows were replaced with a full-framed door. There were also changes to the interior and some updates under the hood.
Work on the SRT-4 Begins
While the standard Neon was a good dependable machine, it didn’t exactly set the world alight in the performance department. However, this would soon change when Tom Gale (the Executive Vice President of Chrysler’s Product Development and Design division) saw all the performance features on compact sports cars at the 1998 Las Vegas Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. He decided that Chrysler needed to integrate some of these features into their own compact production cars.
Gale headed up the design team of the original Dodge Viper concept car, and realised that Chrysler had the opportunity to create a sports car that would appear to a new generation of motoring enthusiasts.
A development team consisting of Dodge and Chrysler’s best and brightest was formed to start working on the new car. It was decided that the Neon would form the basis of the compact machine and a concept car was created in just four months. This vehicle was labelled the Neon SRT and it featured a 2.0-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine that was combined with a 45-cubic-inch Eaton supercharger. Altogether, this power unit produced as much as 208 hp (155 kW) and 240 Nm (180 lb-ft) of torque.
The concept car was put on show at the SEMA show in November 1999. It received an enormous amount of praise and was shown again at the Los Angeles Auto Show a few months later.
In the background, Dodge and Chrysler’s engineers kept on working on the hot Neon. They developed a second car that featured more off the shelf components that were intended to bring down the overall cost of the vehicle. While the car was initially rejected by Chrysler’s executive committee, it was approved in Spring of 2001 after a number of changes were made and the project was taken over by the company’s Speciality Vehicle Engineering (SVE) team.
Making the SRT-4 Production Ready
The SVE team soon became known as Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) and they were given the task of turning the concept into a fully-fledged production performance car. They decided to throw out the old 2.0-litre engine and replace it with a turbocharged A853 2.4-litre inline-four that featured the same basic design as Chrysler’s naturally aspirated 2.4 engines. However, they gave the turbocharged power unit a number of upgrades, including a stronger crankshaft and crank case webbing, a thicker deck, cast aluminium structural oil pan, higher capacity oil pump, improved aluminium alloy pistons made by Mahle and much more. The cylinder head of the SRT’s engine was also different to its naturally aspirated counterparts.
Thanks to the tight packaging of the power unit, the engineering team needed to work their magic on the Mitsubishi TD04LR-15Gk turbocharger that was used in the car. The exhaust manifold and turbine housing were specially cast in one piece by Mitsubishi. This one-piece design not only reduced the overall size of the component, but also allowed for improved flow and reduced thermal mass.
The SRT-4’s specially developed engine was mated to a New Venture Gear T-850 five-speed manual transmission. This was combined with a high-capacity Sachs performance clutch and equal-length half shafts.
To help control the extra power from the new engine, the engineers of the PVO team implemented 280 mm (11-inch) vented disc brakes with extra thick rotors at the front, while the rear received slightly smaller 270 mm (10.6 inch) non-vented discs. These were mated to 57 mm single piston calipers at the front and 36 mm at the rear.
Cornering performance was improved via the use of stiffer springs and SRT-tuned Tokico struts. Larger front and rear sway bars were also included to aid in performance. A unique steering gear, PT Cruiser steering knuckles, and an updated K member were also introduced for the SRT-4.
Increased traction was achieved via 205/50/17 Michelin Pilot Sport performance tyres that wrapped 17 x 6-inch cast aluminium wheels. The Chrysler team specially designed the wheels for the SRT-4 to allow for increased airflow to the brakes and they were similar to those used on the original Neon concept car. To round off the exterior appearance, a unique body kit was fitted to the Neon SRT-4 that included new side skirts and a large rear wing amongst other things.
To match the performance orientated exterior, the standard Neon seats were replaced with ones that were modelled after the ones in the Dodge Viper SRT-10. They featured enhanced lumber and side bolster support to stop the occupants of the vehicle sliding about during spirited driving. The dashboard featured unique SRT-4 gauges and there was an SRT-4 logo on the facing. A turbo boost gauge on the right of the instrument panel completed the upgraded dash. Chrysler and Dodge’s engineers also fitted a faux carbon fibre steering wheel and shift boot, along with a satin silver shift knob and aluminium pedals. As with standard Neon models, the SRT-4 featured power front windows while the rear ones were just manually operated.
By 2003 the Dodge Neon SRT-4 was ready, and sales began. The car proved to be an instant hit, with sales reaching more than 25,000 by the end of production in 2005. This was made more impressive by the fact that Dodge only believed they would sell around 2,500 SRT-4s per year.
In its final form, the 2.4-litre turbocharged engine produced as much as 215 hp (160 kW) and 332 Nm (245 lb-ft) of torque at 3,200 – 4,200 rpm. This would increase with the introduction of the 2004 model with 230 hp (170 kW) and 339 Nm (250 lb-ft) of torque at 2,400 to 4,400 rpm. Performance was impressive for the price with the 2003 model being capable of hitting 97 km/h (60 mph) in as little as 5.3 seconds, while the later model could do it 0.3 seconds quicker. Top speed was tested to be around 246 km/h (153 mph).
Compared to the early model, the 2004 SRT-4 featured larger fuel injectors, new engine management software, and a torque-sensing Quaife limited-slip differential. The car was also given BF Goodrich g-Force T/A KDW-2 three season ultra-high-performance tyres over the Michelin Pilot Sports that were fitted to the 2003 SRT-4. Dodge also offered some new paint and trim options, and removed the Neon name from the vehicle, simply badging it as the “SRT-4”.
Dodge Introduces the ACR
For the final year of production, Dodge introduced an American Club Racer (ACR) package that included a number of upgrades and features over the standard SRT-4. The ride height was lowered 10 mm (0.39 inches) at the front and 23.5 mm (0.93 inches) at the rear, with an additional 22 mm (0.87 inches) of lowering coming from smaller diameter tyres. While the 225/45/16 BFG KDW2 tyres were smaller in diameter, they were wider and wrapped new 16x7 inch BBS RX racing wheels.
Another big change was the introduction of 5 position adjustable performance Tokico Illumina dampers. These were combined with a thicker rear stabiliser bar (19 mm) and stiffer bushings in the rear tension struts.
The other main features of the ACR included embroidered, Viper-style, racing seats with racing harnesses. There were also ACR decals on the bottoms of the front doors and the Vehicle Speed Sensor gear changed from 20 tooth to 21 tooth to make sure the speedometer was correct for the new tyre diameter.
In total, Dodge produced 1,175 ACR versions of the SRT-4, with the makeup being as follows:
- Flame Red – 225
- Orange Blast – 211
- Stone White – 306
- Black – 433
2005 Commemorative Edition SRT-4
In 2005, Dodge decided to release a Commemorative Edition version of the SRT-4, along with similar versions for the Viper SRT-10 and the Ram SRT-10. The SRT-4 Commemorative Edition was sold in limited number and was finished in a special “Stone White” paint job with “Electric Blue” stripes that were much like the ones on the Viper.
On the inside there was blue stitching on the steering wheel, seats, shifter and floor mats. There were also stainless steel “SRT-4” door sill plates and a numbered plaque that denoted what number the specific SRT-4 was in the run of 200 cars. The final addition was a Commemorative Edition booklet that was the same given to Viper and Ram Commemorative Edition buyers.
The End of the SRT-4
Despite being such a hit with buyers, the SRT-4 was fairly short lived. The car ceased production in 2005 with the discontinuation of the PL platform that the Neon was based on. Dodge would eventually create a successor in the form of the 2008 Caliber SRT-4.
Dodge Neon SRT-4 Specifications
|Model||Dodge Neon SRT-4 (just SRT-4 for 2004 – 2005 models)|
|Model Years||2003 – 2005|
|Production Years||2003 – 2005|
|Layout||Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||2.4-litre EDV/EDT Inline-four|
|Power||215 hp (160 kW)|
230 hp (170 kW) – 2004 onwards
|Torque||332 Nm (245 lb-ft) at 3,200 – 4,200 rpm|
339 Nm (250 lb-ft) at 2,400 to 4,400 rpm
|Gearbox||5-speed NVG T-850 manual|
|Brakes Front||280 mm (11 inch) vented discs|
|Brakes Rear||270 mm (10.6 inch) non-vented discs|
|Tyres||205/50/17 Michelin Pilot Sport|
225/45/16 BFG KDW2 (ACR Model)
|Wheels||17 x 6 inch cast aluminium wheels|
16×7-inch BBS RX racing wheels
|Weight||1,308 kg (2,883 lbs)|
|Top speed||246 km/h (153 mph)|
|0 – 97 km/h (60 mph)||5.6 seconds|
5.3 seconds – 2004 onwards
Dodge Neon SRT-4 Buyer’s Guide
With the history and specifications out of the way, let’s take a look at what you need to know when buying a Dodge Neon SRT-4.
Setting Up an Inspection of a Dodge SRT-4
Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up an inspection of one of these iconic 2000s performance cars.
Try to view the SRT-4 in person or get a reliable third party to do so for you – Buying a used car sight unseen is usually pretty risky. While you may get lucky, many SRT-4s have been used and abused, so you could be opening yourself up to a wallet wounding experience. If it is not possible for you to physically inspect the Dodge, we recommend that you enlist the help of a reliable third party such as a friend to go look at the car for you.
Take a friend/helper with you – Having a second set of eyes and ears is always handy, so we recommend that you take a friend with you.
Try to look at he Neon SRT-4 at the seller’s house or place of business – This is a good idea as it will give you a bit of an idea of how and where the Dodge you are interested in has been stored. Another benefit of doing this is that it gives you the chance to check the condition of the roads that the car is regularly driven on. If they are in really bad condition with lots of potholes the suspension, steering, tyres and wheels may have taken a bit of a beating.
If possible, arrange the inspection for a time in the morning – It is usually better to look at a used early in the morning, rather than later in the day. This is because it will give the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as leaking oil, coolant, etc. Another benefit of morning inspections is that it gives the seller less opportunity to warm up their Dodge Neon SRT-4. Warm engines can hide a multitude of sins, so check that the power unit is cold when you arrive and let the seller know that you don’t want the vehicle driven/warmed prior to your arrival.
Avoid inspecting a used car in the rain – Water can cover up a whole load of different issues with the bodywork and paint that may have been easy to spot on a sunny, dry day. While you can’t control the weather (or at least that’s what they used to say), you can go back for a second viewing of the Dodge Neon SRT-4 if it was raining during your first look.
Watch out for freshly washed SRT-4s – If you go to an inspection and the SRT-4 you are interested in has just been washed (and still has water on it), it could be a sign that the seller is trying to hide an issue. Some sellers may clean the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to cover up issues such as leaking oil/fluid.
Get the seller to move their SRT-4 outside if it is in a garage or showroom – Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.
Where to Find a Dodge Neon SRT-4 for Sale?
Despite only being in production for three years or so, Dodge produced quite a lot of these cars. You can still find them for sale on places like Carsforsale, Craigslist, Kijiji and Autotrader. Mint condition SRT-4s can sometimes be found on specialist auction sites such as bringatrailer.com, so we recommend that you check out those sorts of sites if you are looking for a really good example.
If you have any Dodge/SRT groups in your area, we recommend that you check out those as well. The website srtforums.com is still fairly active as well, so you should definitely jump on there to see if there are any SRT-4s for sale and to get a bit more advice from knowledgeable owners. Another good website to checkout is neons.org.
How Much Should I Spend on an SRT-4?
As you can see from this Neon SRT-4 that had only travelled 125 miles at the time of sale, prices can get pretty high for these cars. How much you should spend on a Dodge Neon SRT-4 really comes down to the condition, mileage, model (standard, ACR, Commemorative, etc.) and more. To find out how much cash you need to have on hand to buy one of these cars, we recommend that you jump on your local auction/classifieds and dealers’ websites and check the prices of ones currently for sale. You can then use the prices from the cars you find to work out roughly how much money you need to spend to get a Neon SRT-4 in a specific condition/trim level.
Will the Dodge Neon SRT-4 Be a Future Classic?
We would say that the Neon SRT-4 is already a bit of a classic. The car was an icon of the North American motoring scene in the mid-2000s and it is still fondly remember today. It was the car that nobody expected and lead off Dodge’s revival in the performance world.
While we don’t expect prices to reach the lofty heights of some other performance cars, we do feel that the Neon SRT-4 is a reasonably priced classic that will appreciate in value in the future.
Are Neon SRT-4s Expensive to Maintain?
Like with pretty much any used car, this really comes down to how the specific SRT-4 you are looking at has been maintained. If it has been treated badly with infrequent services, etc., future buyers will have to deal with extra maintenance bills. However, even a well-maintained Neon SRT-4 will probably cost more to run than a base model Honda Civic from the period (maintenance being equal). The SRT-4 is a performance car, which can increase the cost of ownership.
Should I Get a Mechanic to Inspect a Neon SRT-4 Prior to Purchase?
This is generally a good idea with any used car purchase, even if you are quite knowledgeable about mechanical things. A good mechanic or specialist who has experience with the SRT-4 or cars with similar components can give you a second opinion. They will be able to run more tests and may save you money down the track.
Even if you do not plan to take the car to a mechanic before buying it, we recommend that you ask the seller if you can. If they seem funny or hesitant about it, it could be a sign that they are trying to hide an issue.
Checking the VIN
It is a good idea to check the VIN when inspecting a used car. The VIN can tell you quite a bit of information about the Dodge SRT-4 you are looking at and it is usually worth checking the VIN on a decoder website or with Dodge/Chrysler prior to purchase. VIN numbers on a Neon SRT-4 should look something like this – 1B3ES66S85D227904. There should be multiple VINs on different panels of the car, so make sure they all match as you move around the vehicle. If they don’t it could be a sign of accident damage or some other sort of issue.
Once again, the condition of the engine in an old Neon SRT-4 is really going to come down to how it has been maintained and whether or not the owner (or any previous owners) has thrashed the living daylights out of it. If you notice any signs of poor maintenance, be very cautious.
To begin your inspection, move to the front of the Neon and lift the hood/bonnet – does it open smoothly? How’s the catch? If there is a problem with the hood catch or hinges, it could be a sign of an accident.
Following this, give the engine bay a good initial inspection, keeping an eye out for any standout issues. Watch out for oil leaks, missing or broken components and any modifications. If the SRT-4 you are looking at has been heavily modified we would be very cautious, especially if it is running lots of power.
A completely spotless engine bay is usually a sign of a good owner, however, it may also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up (especially if it looks like the engine bay has just been washed.
Checking the Fluids
This is something that so many people overlook when inspecting a used car. The engine oil and other fluids can tell you a lot about how a particular Neon SRT-4 has been maintained and looked after. Additionally, if the fluids are too low or high, it can lead to increased wear and reliability issues.
When you check the engine oil/dipstick, keep an eye out for any metallic particles or grit. If you do see any it could be a sign of a big problem. Additionally, watch out for any foam in the oil or on the dipstick. If you do notice any foam it could be from a range of different issues from condensation in the oil to a leaking head gasket (especially if it is very thick and white), or an engine that has been overfilled with oil.
Ask the seller about the service schedule for their Neon SRT-4 and don’t forget to check the service history and any relevant documents as well (receipts, etc.). If they can’t produce the service history or won’t let you see it, we would be very cautious. A complete service history will only add value to the Dodge Neon if you decide to sell it in the future.
According to the Neon SRT-4’s service manual, the engine oil and filter should be replaced every 5,000 km (3,000 miles) in harsh use cases (lots of short trips, extensive engine idling, dusty driving, etc.). For less severe driving conditions, the engine oil and filter should have been replaced every 8,000 km (5,000 miles). Modern synthetic oils tend to be quite long-lasting, so as long as the oil and filter have been changed around the 8,000 km mark, we would be happy. If the SRT-4 has not been driven that much, these two components should have been replaced every 12 months.
Are Oil Leaks Common on the Neon SRT-4?
Quite a few owners reported oil leaking issues with their SRT-4s, even when they were fairly new. Oil leaks into the intercooler piping was and still is quite a common issue. This is largely down to the PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) valve design. While Dodge/Chrysler did introduce an updated PCV/valve cover for 04 and 05 models, the problem still persisted. The PCV valve is a wear component, so it should really be replaced every
Oil in the charge pipe can often lead to poor engine running during or immediately after a pull in boost, so watch out for that. A tiny amount of oil from the PCV air intake during boost is pretty normal and is why so many owners fitted oil catch cans to these cars (one of the first modifications available for them). If a catch can has been fitted it will need to be drained every 8,000 km (5,000 miles) or so.
Another common oil leak is usually from around the oil filter. The oil filter adapter can be mistakenly mismatched leading to incorrect fitment and oil leaks.
It is a good idea to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive. Check around the engine bay (particularly around the valve cover, PCV valve, etc.), the underside of the SRT-4 and the ground underneath the car. If you notice puddles of oil underneath the Neon SRT-4 it is probably better to walk away as if it was an easy fix the owner probably would have got it sorted before putting the vehicle on the market.
Does the Neon SRT-4 Have a Timing Belt or Chain?
The 2.4-litre turbocharged engine inside the Dodge Neon SRT-4 uses a timing belt and not a chain, so it is important that it has been replaced at the required service intervals. While Dodge/Chrysler’s 2.4-litre engine is non-interference thanks to the piston-to-valve clearance, valve-to-valve interference can occur if the camshafts are rotated independently, or you are at wide-open throttle. If at some point an owner has added some big cams and raised the compression, it can turn the power unit into an interference engine.
While stock engines are non-interference and there is only a small chance that valve-to-valve interference will occur if the belt breaks, it is still very important to make sure that the belt has been changed.
The service manual calls for timing belt changes at 164,000 km (102,000 miles) or 169,000 km (105,000 miles) depending on what schedule you are following (severe or normal conditions). In addition to the timing belt, the belt tensioner, idler pulley, and a new OEM water pump (driven off the timing belt) should be replaced as well. Many owners like to change the belt and these other components at a much lower mileage as a number of owners have experienced belt failure before the service interval.
If the belt has not been changed in a long time or it is well past the recommended mileage for a change, it suggests poor maintenance and you should be thinking what other areas of the car have not been looked after properly. If the belt needs to be changed soon and you still want to purchase the Dodge SRT-4, make sure you get a good discount.
Inspecting the Cooling System on an SRT-4
Cooling issues are going to be one of your primary areas of concern as an issue with the cooling system could leave you with an unusable vehicle and a very expensive repair bill. Here are some of the main components of the cooling system in a Dodge SRT-4:
- Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
- Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
- Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine
- Overflow or Expansion tank – removes air from the system and provides a filling point for the coolant
- Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system
Make sure you have a good look at the expansion/coolant tank and the coolant lines themselves (at least the bits you can see). Check for any current leaks or crusted coolant which may indicate a past leak.
Like with any form of leak, it is important to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive (along with checking the coolant height). Once you have conducted a test drive of a Dodge Neon SRT-4 wait around 10 to 15 minutes. Following this, recheck for any coolant leaks. Look under the car and do a smell test. If you don’t see a leak but smell a sweet aroma, it could be a sign of leaking coolant.
Water pump failure is another thing to watch out for, especially if the SRT-4 you are looking at has travelled far since the pump was last replaced. Signs of a bad water pump usually include metal whining or grinding noises, and you may notice the engine overheating as well.
Common Signs of Overheating & Other Cooling Issues
Below we have listed some of the symptoms you may notice if the Dodge Neon SRT-4 you are looking at is overheating/suffering from a problem such as a failed head gasket.
- Temperature gauge on that is on the high side
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Smell of coolant from the oil
- Sweet smelling exhaust
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- Steam from the front of the car
Some of the problems above are more serious than the others, but if you notice multiple of them on the SRT-4 you are looking at, it is best to move onto another car. If for whatever reason you are still interested in a Dodge Neon SRT-4 that is displaying these issues, do not purchase the car until you can get it checked out (these issues are personally a no from us).
Inspecting the Exhaust on an SRT-4
Make sure you have a look at as much of the exhaust system as possible. Problems here can be quite expensive to fix if the exhaust needs extensive repairs, so check for the following:
- Corrosion – Shouldn’t really be an issue, but always worth looking out for, especially if the car has been fitted with a cheap mild steel aftermarket exhaust.
- Damage – Watch out for any dings, dents, scrapes etc. Check that the mounts/hangers are in good condition as they are a common failure point – makes the tailpipes wobble all over the place
- Bodge jobs (bad repairs) – Always be mindful of a quick fix that has been done to bring a vehicle up to a somewhat saleable condition.
- Low rumbling, scraping and rattling noises – May indicate an issue with the exhaust or could be caused by some other problem.
- Smell of fuel/gas – if you smell fumes inside the cabin, it is a sign that there could be an issue with the exhaust.
A number of aftermarket exhaust options are available for the Neon SRT-4, so don’t be surprised to find more than a few of these cars with non-stock exhausts. If the Dodge you are looking at does have an aftermarket exhaust, try to find out the brand/builder and check reviews.
Catalytic Converter Issues
Catalytic converters will eventually fail/become clogged up so watch out for the following signs of a bad one:
- Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
- Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
- Excessive heat from underneath the SRT-4
- Dark smoke from the Ford’s exhaust
- CEL (Check Engine Light)
It is not uncommon to remove the catalytic converter for performance purposes or if it simply fails. However, be mindful that the car will probably fail emissions tests in those places that have them.
Turning on a Dodge Neon SRT-4 for the First Time
We feel that it is a good idea to get the seller to start the Dodge Neon for you for the first time. This is for the following couple of reasons:
- So you can have a look at what comes out of the back of the Dodge Neon SRT-4
- If the seller gives the car a load of revs when it is cold you know they have probably treated it poorly and it is best to walk away
Make sure you turn on and off the SRT-4 yourself a few times later during the inspection/test drive. It is also important to check what warning lights come up during start up and what ones stay on. If no warning lights appear when the vehicle is turned on, it may be a sign that they have been disconnected to hide an issue. Additionally, if you do notice a warning light like the CEL, don’t purchase the car until you find out what is causing the issue.
What Should the Idle Speed Be on a Dodge SRT-4
Once warm, the idle speed should sit around 750 to 800 rpm, but may be slightly higher or lower depending on a number of factors. When the car is first started and the engine is still cold, expect the idle speed to be around 900 to 1,000 rpm.
Idle issues can be caused by a whole range of different issues from vacuum leaks (usually causes hanging idle or the engine revs by itself), problems with the idle air control (IAC) valve and more. Another thing to watch out for is problems with the TPS wiring going into the throttle body sensor. You can test for this by wiggling the wires and seeing if the idle speed changes. The main sign of this issue is usually hanging idle.
Tips While on a Test Drive
When checking the engine on a test drive, make sure you wait until it is fully warmed up before giving it a load of beans. Check how the Dodge SRT-4 responds under both light and hard acceleration. It is a good idea to leave the windows open so you can get a better listen to the sound of the engine and any potential issues that may have been muffled by the cabin.
Limited Revs and Check Engine Light (CEL)
If you find that the Neon SRT-4 you are test driving won’t go above about 2,000 to 2,500 rpm and there is a CEL, it may be a sign that the Cam position sensor has gone bad. This seems to be a very common issue on the SRT-4 and while replacement only takes about 5 minutes, it is something to be aware of. Here are some other signs of this issue:
- Failure to start
- Irregular idle
- P0335, P0339, P0340, P0344 codes.
Bad Engine Mounts
Motor mounts will eventually need to be replaced, so it is a good idea to check if/when they were last changed. Here are some of the main things to watch out for:
- Clunking, banging, or other impact sounds that are a result of engine movement
- Excessive vibrations
- Engine movement – rev the car and see if the engine moves excessively
Smoke from Dodge Neon SRT-4
As we wrote earlier, get the seller to start the Neon for you for the first time. Position yourself at the rear of the vehicle and hold up a white piece of paper/towel in front of the exhaust tailpipes. Once the car has been started, check to see how much soot is on it. The SRT-4 does run fairly rich, so don’t be surprised to find a bit of soot on the paper/towel. Excessive amounts could be a sign of a problem.
Don’t worry about a small amount of exhaust vapour on engine start as this is perfectly normal (you probably already know this) and is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust system. Walk away from a Dodge SRT-4 if it is producing smoke or lots of vapour, especially if it is very thick. Here is a quick rundown of what the different colours of smoke may indicate:
White smoke – Lots of thick white/grey smoke from an SRT-4’s exhaust indicates that water has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.
Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, turbo issues and more. The smoke occurs because oil gets into the cylinders and burns with the air/fuel mixture. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the Dodge Neon. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back.
Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the fuel injectors and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
Rebuilt or Replaced Engines
Don’t be put off by a Dodge Neon SRT-4 with a rebuilt or replaced engine as long as the work was done by somebody who knows what they are doing. Find out who did the work and check any reviews/feedback. If it was a “home mechanic” job, be cautious, as while there are many very competent home mechanics, there are also plenty of ones with more ambition than skill.
We always recommend that you ask the seller/owner why the engine was rebuilt or replaced – was it simply due to mileage? Did the timing belt brake?
It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, a Neon SRT-4 with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage. The one thing you don’t want to do is to purchase somebody else’s unfinished project (unless that’s what you are specifically looking for).
Boost Leak Testing, Compression/Leakdown Testing, etc.
These sorts of tests are not completely necessary when purchasing an old Neon SRT-4, but they can be handy tools to help determine the condition of a particular car’s engine. If you are taking one of these cars to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a test.
Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).
There are simply far too many modifications available for the Neon SRT-4 to go through in detail. If you are looking at a modified SRT-4, we would be cautious if it is running excessive amounts of power/boost. Additionally, ask the owner for a complete rundown on the aftermarket parts and check any reviews. Don’t let the seller convince you that modifications add value to the car.
The Dodge Neon SRT-4 was fitted with a 5-speed NVG T-850 manual transmission. Make sure you test it thoroughly at both low and high engine speeds. Third gear pop out is a common issue with the transmission, so check if it happens on both up and downshifts (seems to be more common on downshifts). Some owners also find that gearshifts can become quite stiff during hard acceleration. This could be caused by something like the shift fork getting worn away where the shift selectors pushes to engage the gear.
Synchro wear is a possibility, so check for any graunching or grinding on both upshifts and downshifts. If the synchro issues seem really bad, except to replace or rebuild the transmission in the near future. Higher mileage cars or those that have repeatedly been thrashed are more likely to suffer from synchro wear.
Another thing you should check is how the transmission performs while doing a hill start and don’t forget to check reverse as well.
The transmission fluid should be replaced every 29,000 km (18,000 miles) – the owner’s manual was amended from 48,000 km (30,000 miles). Lots of owners recommend Amsoil ATF for the change, but some owners believe that the use of ATF has led to syncro issues on these cars. Dodge/Chrysler only used ATF to save money as they didn’t want to install MTF lines in the factory. Interestingly, many owners opt to use Mobil 1 10W-30 or 10W-40 synthetic as the transmission fluid for the SRT-4s. Check out this guide if you plan to do replace the transmission fluid yourself.
Making Sure the Clutch is Functioning Properly
More than a few SRT-4 owners have experienced problems with getting their car into gear or with the clutch engaging too low. The problem is usually caused by the factory clutch pivot fork. Overtime it can wear due to the throw out bearing moving back and forth on it. Additionally, the throw out bearing can also develop wear from the clutch teeth pressing against it. Wear on this part can cause shifting issues as early as 48,000 km (30,000 miles), so bear this in mind. Here are some of the main things to watch out for when testing the clutch.
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Dodge Neon SRT-4 you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.
Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.
Clutch Drag – Get the Dodge Neon on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.
Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.
Clutch replacement isn’t too expensive on these cars and it can be done yourself if you are fairly practical and have a bit of patience. Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 if you take the car to a mechanic or specialist to have the clutch replaced (at the time of writing).
Steering and Suspension
The Dodge Neon SRT-4 is getting on a bit in terms of age and many of these cars have travelled far, so clapped out suspension and steering components are going to be the norm on many cars you look at.
Visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible. Watch out for any leaks, modifications, wear and damage. A torch/flashlight can come in handy here, along with a mirror.
The Control up bushings at the front and the outer tie rods are common failure/wear items. Both the Neon and the PT Cruiser were fitted with poor quality stamped “sealed” outer tie rods that would fail well before the 160,000 km (100,000 mile) mark. Most other suspension and steering components will be good for around 160,000 km, so if you are looking at a car with that sort of mileage, expect to spend a bit on the suspension (if it hasn’t already been replaced). Here are some things to watch out for that could indicate that the suspension and steering components needs some attention:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps (trailing arm bushes)
- Tipping during cornering
- High speed instability
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (trailing arm bushes)
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – usually the front bushings or wheel bearings – watch out for the front lower arm suspension bushes, upper wishbones, and anti-roll bar bushes.
- Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
- Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – usually a bad CV joint as this is a very common issue. However, clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well
If the Dodge SRT-4 you are looking at has been fitted with aftermarket suspension, make sure you are happy with the ride quality. It is not uncommon for non-stock suspension to be overly harsh and setup for track use, making regular road driving almost unbearable.
Making Sure the Wheel Alignment is Correct
Locate a nice straight, flat section of road and test the wheel alignment. Make sure the Dodge Neon SRT-4 you are test driving runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. If the wheel alignment is incorrect it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear, resulting in more frequent tyre changes and more expense to you. In addition to this, incorrect wheel alignment can also lead to a less enjoyable and safe driving experience.
Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.
Inspecting the Wheels & Tyres
While you are having a look at the steering and suspension components, remember to have a look at the wheels and tyres. The odd scrape and scratch on the rims is to be expected on a car of this age, but lots of curb damage suggests that the owner (or any previous owner has been a bit careless).
If the Neon SRT-4 you are looking at has aftermarket wheels (any many of them do), see if the seller still has the originals. Owning the original wheels will only add value to the car and if they don’t have them we suggest that you use it as a bargaining point. The SRT-4 was fitted with the following wheel sets:
- 17 x 6-inch cast aluminium wheels
- 16 × 7-inch BBS RX racing wheels (ACR model)
Tyres can also tell you quite a bit about how a used SRT-4 has been treated and maintained, so check for the following:
- Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
- Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the Dodge Neon SRT-4. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
- Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
- Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.
The following tyres were fitted to the Dodge Neon SRT-4 as standard:
- 205/50/17 Michelin Pilot Sport
- 225/45/16 BFG KDW2 (ACR Model)
Dodge’s engineers fitted the Neon SRT-4 with 280 mm (11 inch) vented discs at the front and 270 mm (10.6 inch) non-vented discs at the rear. The upgraded SRT-4 brakes should be more than adequate for road use, so if they feel weak or spongy there is a problem. If you need a bit more out of the brakes, the pads are the first things to replace with Carbotech ones being a popular choice. Big brake kits are available, but are seen as a bit of a waste of money for road use as the original SRT-4 brakes are pretty good.
Make sure you visually inspect the brakes, checking for any wear, damage, modifications, etc. If the pads and rotors need to be replaced in the near future make sure you get a discount on the Dodge SRT-4. Additionally, check with the owner and in the service history to see if the brake fluid has been replaced every two years or so.
It is important to test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs, checking how the brakes feel. If you feel a shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel under braking, it is probably a sign that the rotors/discs need replacing on the SRT-4 you are test driving. This issue usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.
Don’t forget to check the handbrake as a problem here could be embarrassing or even dangerous if it fails. It is a good idea to test the handbrake on a steep incline if you can find one. Additionally, listen out for any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use as this could indicate anything from worn/bad pads to disc issues and more.
Seized/stuck brakes is a possibility, especially if the SRT-4 has not been driven after being washed. Here are some signs of the problem:
- SRT-4 pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
- Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of something else as well)
- Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
- You find that the Dodge SRT-4 doesn’t want to move at all
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
Body and Exterior of an SRT-4
Bodywork and paint issues can be an absolute nightmare to put right, so it is important to take your time here. Make sure you are happy with the exterior and don’t let the seller distract you.
Unfortunately, rust has been a bit of an issue on these cars, and we even found a post from 2003 complaining about rust from new! However, it is not all doom and gloom. While the SRT-4 can suffer from rust, it isn’t as much of a problem as on some other cars from the period or older vehicles. You should check the whole car for rust/corrosion, paying particular attention to these following areas:
- Rear quarter panel (not uncommon for it to rust right through)
- Bottom of the door panels, especially if the drain holes are not working properly
- Rocker panel, especially where paint is chipped off
- Front edge of the hood/bonnet
- Front suspension crossmember
- Sway bar
What Can Make Rust More Likely to Appear?
- Vehicle has spent time in areas with salted roads (Michigan, New York, Ohio, etc.)
- Car has spent time in areas with very harsh winters
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- Parts or things rubbing on the bodywork
- Old or no underseal
Looking for Rust Repairs
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
Crash damage is almost certainly going to be your biggest concern when it comes to the body on a Dodge Neon SRT-4. These cars promote spirited driving, so more than a few have been in accidents and then repaired poorly.
Many owners and sellers will lie and try to cover up accident damage. In some cases, people will even claim that their vehicle hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has. Here are some of the main things to watch out for:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Dodge SRT-4 you are inspecting may have been in an accident.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the Dodge Neon you are inspecting has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
- Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights – This is very difficult to fix if the car has been in an accident, so watch out for this.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the SRT-4 and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
- Rust in strange locations – Is often a sign of crash damage on a Dodge Neon SRT-4
- Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue, but more likely due to a respray
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
We wouldn’t necessarily let a bit of accident damage put us off a Neon SRT-4, as long as it was light to moderate and it was repaired by a competent body shop/panel beater. If the accident damage was clearly very severe and/or the resultant repairs aren’t up to standard, we would probably move onto another Dodge Neon SRT-4.
If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
Problems with the track alignment and the guide arms for the sunroof (if the car you are looking at has one) are common. Getting new assemblies is very expensive and they are getting harder to come by. Leaks are another common issue with the sunroof, so make sure the headlining is dry. If possible, see if you can borrow a hose to test the sunroof for leaks.
There really isn’t that much to say about the interior apart from the usually used car related things. Check for wear, rips or stains on the seats and make sure they have not collapsed. Additionally, check that he seats do no move during acceleration or braking as this is incredibly dangerous. Also make sure that the seat adjustments work as intended.
Excessive wear on the seats, steering wheel, shifter and carpets for the mileage may be a sign that the Dodge SRT-4 you are inspecting has had a hard life.
As we mentioned earlier, leaks/dampness in the interior can be an issue, especially if the SRT-4 you are looking at has a sunroof. Check the around the headlining and feel the carpets as well. Make sure you check in the trunk/boot and inspect the underside of the floor mats. If they have water residue on them it may be a sign of a past or present leak.
Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Dodge Neon SRT-4 you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.
If any interior parts need replacing it can be quite expensive, especially if the parts are exclusive to the SRT-4.
Electronics, Air Con, Locks, Etc.
Don’t forget to check that all of the electronics and systems work as intended. Have a play with all the different knobs, dials and switches around the cabin. If you do come across an electrical issue it could be expensive to fix. Additionally, check that all the locks, windows and keys work properly as well (also check that the owner has the original keys the car came with.
Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning works as intended and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).
As we mentioned in the engine section, check that the warning lights work during both engine start-up and while the car is running. If no lights appear during start-up the seller may have disconnected them to hide an issue. Lastly, take along an OBDII scanner or take the car to a Renault specialist or dealer to have the codes read as there may be a hidden issue. Watch out for sellers who have cleared codes without fixing or investigating the cause.
General Car Buying Advice for a Dodge Neon SRT-4
How to Get the Best Deal on an SRT-4
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a Neon SRT-4, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage ACR version or do you not mind a standard SRT-4 that has travelled a bit further.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Dodge sold a fair few of these cars, so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Go look at and test drive multiple Dodge Neon SRT-4s – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad SRT-4.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a Dodge SRT-4 for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple Neon SRT-4s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Dodge/Chrysler specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.
The service history will give you a good idea of how the Dodge Neon SRT-4 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced?
- When was the timing belt and water pump last replaced?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- How are the speakers
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Neon SRT-4
Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems or blown head gasket
- Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Dodge Neon SRT-4 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the Neon SRT-4 and the model they are selling (standard, ACR, Commemorative).
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Dodge Neon SRT-4.