Delayed graft function (DGF) may be associated with diminished kidney allograft survival. We studied the risk factors that lead to nonimmediate function of a renal allograft and the consequences of DGF on short- and long-term renal transplant survival. Data from the U.S. Renal Data System were used to measure the relationships among cold ischemia time, delayed graft function, acute rejection, and graft survival in 37,216 primary cadaveric renal transplants (1985-1992). These relationships were investigated using the unconditional logistic and Cox multivariate regression methods. Cold ischemia time was strongly associated with DGF, with a 23% increase in the risk of DGF for every 6 hr of cold ischemia (P<0.001). Acute transplant rejection occurred more frequently in grafts with delayed function (37% vs. 20%; odds ratio=2.25, P=0.001). DGF was independently predictive of 5-year graft loss (relative risk=1.53, P<0.001). The presence of both early acute rejection and DGF portended a dismal 5-year graft survival rate of 35%. Zero-HLA mismatch conferred a 10-15% improvement in 1- and 5-year graft survival regardless of early functional status of the allograft. However, the 5-year graft survival rate in HLA-mismatched kidneys without DGF was significantly higher than that of zero-mismatched kidneys with DGF (63% vs. 51%; P<0.001). DGF independently portends a significant reduction in short- and long-term graft survival. Delayed function and early rejection episodes exerted an additive adverse effect on allograft survival. The deleterious impact of delayed function is comparatively more severe than that of poor HLA matching.