OBJECTIVES: To investigate the bond strength of modern "self-adhesive" resin cements to a zirconium-based dental ceramic following different surface preparations and storage conditions. METHODS: The surface of zirconium-based ceramic discs (12 x 2 mm) were either left untreated, prepared using alumina grit-blasting or tribochemical treatment. Resin composite cylinders were bonded to ceramic specimens using Panavia-F, RelyX Unicem or Maxcem resin cements. The shear bond strength of specimens (n = 10) was tested "dry," following 24-hour water immersion or a thermocycling regime. RESULTS: For each surface preparation, a significant reduction in bond strength following 24-hour water immersion and thermocycling compared to "dry" storage conditions was identified for both Panavia-F and Maxcem. However, Unicem specimens exhibited statistically similar SBS values for tribochemically-treated specimens stored dry following 24-hour water immersion or thermocycling (11.7 +/- 1.3, 14.1 +/- 6.3 and 11.7 +/- 4.9 MPa, respectively) (p > 0.05). No significant differences in bond strength were identified for Panavia-F or Unicem specimens for any surface preparation following the thermocycling regime (p > 0.05). In contrast, for each surface preparation following thermocycling (p <0.001), Maxcem exhibited a significant decrease in SBS compared with Panavia-F and Unicem specimens. CONCLUSIONS: The pre-treatment of a zirconium-based ceramic surface with grit-blasting and tribochemical treatment improves the bond strength of resin cements. Following "wet" storage conditions, Panavia-F and Unicem demonstrated superior bond strength compared with Maxcem. Differences in ceramic surface preparation and the chemistry of resin cements will affect the nature of the bonding mechanism and durability of the adhesive layer.