A superfamily of DNA polymerases that bypass lesions in DNA has been described. Some family members are described as error-prone because mutations that inactivate the polymerase reduce damage-induced mutagenesis. In contrast, mutations in the skin cancer susceptibility gene XPV, which encodes DNA polymerase (pol)-eta, lead to increased ultraviolet-induced mutagenesis. This, and the fact that pol-eta primarily inserts adenines during efficient bypass of thymine-thymine dimers in vitro, has led to the description of pol-eta as error-free. However, here we show that human pol-eta copies undamaged DNA with much lower fidelity than any other template-dependent DNA polymerase studied. Pol-eta lacks an intrinsic proofreading exonuclease activity and, depending on the mismatch, makes one base substitution error for every 18 to 380 nucleotides synthesized. This very low fidelity indicates a relaxed requirement for correct base pairing geometry and indicates that the function of pol-eta may be tightly controlled to prevent potentially mutagenic DNA synthesis.