The in vitro fidelity of the virion-associated RNA polymerase of vesicular stomatitis virus was quantitated for a single conserved viral RNA site and the usual high in vitro base misincorporation error frequencies (approx. 10(-3)) were observed at this (guanine) site. We sought evidence for RNA 3'-->5' exonuclease proofreading mechanisms by varying the concentrations of the next nucleoside triphosphate, by incorporation of nucleoside[1-thio]triphosphate analogues of the four natural RNA nucleosides, and by varying the concentrations of pyrophosphate in the in vitro polymerase reaction. None of these perturbations greatly affected viral RNA polymerase fidelity at the site studied. These results fail to show evidence for proofreading exonuclease activity associated with the virion replicase of an RNA virus. They suggest that RNA virus replication might generally be error-prone, because RNA replicase base misincorporations are proofread very inefficiently or not at all.