Most will agree that an ATV is better off when kept in a dry, vented garage or shed protected from sun and rain. But that is not always an option. How bad is it for your ATV to be left outside instead, exposed to the elements? 

An ATV can be kept outside as long as it’s stored under a quality cover that breaths and allow enough ventilation to prevent condensation. However, keeping an ATV outdoors without a cover may cause corrosion, electrical issues, paint damage, and increased theft risk.

Before you decide to keep your ATV left outside long term, you need to determine whether you are willing to accept the downsides that may come with it. It’s also a good idea to consider a few simple measures to minimize the potential negative impacts on your bike. 

Before storing your ATV long-term, please refer to your bike’s owner’s manual guidelines for proper storage. These guidelines apply whether you’re keeping your ATV indoors or outdoors under a cover. 

How Rain Affects an ATV

One of the main concerns people have against leaving their ATV outside is whether or not it is ok for an ATV to get rained on.

ATVs are designed to be used in the rain, and the occasional shower should not cause any significant issues. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to keep it outside long term where it gets rained on regularly. Some downsides are corrosion, wet electronics, and damage by acid rain.

Water May Enter Electric Components

A modern ATV is packed with electronic components such as the ECU, electric motors in the power steering and winch, relays, switches, sensors, control panels, speedometer, and more. And as you probably already know, electronics and water does not go too well together. 

Most ATV manufacturers recommend that you clean your bike using a garden hose and a soft brush rather than a pressure washer. If you use a pressure washer, you should not aim it directly at the above electrical components. 

The same applies when the ATV is left outside to get rained regularly. While most of the electronic components on an ATV are designed to withstand the occasional soaking, they are not always entirely waterproof. 

In time, water may enter and cause damage, in particular when left wet for more extended periods without a chance of drying up properly. 

Typical damages are short circuits and switches not working or stuck due to internal corrosion.

One can do some preventive measures like packing all connectors with dielectric grease that prevents water intrusion. But the best alternative is to store the ATV somewhere it will dry up properly between each use. 

Exposed Metals May Corrode or Oxidate

While most of the metal components in an ATV are painted to withstand corrosion, there are still parts like nuts and bolts, brake disks, rods, mounting brackets that will rust when stored in a moist or wet environment.

Other parts exposed to corrosion are tie rods, a-arms, and frame parts with paint damage from hitting rocks when going off-road. 

Untreated aluminum components are prone to oxidation where water and air react with the bare metal and leave an oxide surface that adds years to the bike’s appearance. 

Some ATV owners make the mistake of using plastic or any coated material to cover their ATVs. A watertight material such as plastic does not breathe and will allow for condensation buildup, which pretty much equals leaving the ATV out in the rain. 

Related: 15 tips to prevent rust from developing on your ATV

Acid Rain May Damage Paints and Fabrics

This heading may sound a bit overly dramatic, but as it turns out, it holds quite a bit of truth. 

Rain contains a weak but abundant acid formed when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mixes with rainwater. Other sources of acid rain are sulfur dioxide from coal plants, volcanoes, and coastal marches that react with oxygen and nitrogen and act as chemical weathering agents. 

While the acids in rainwater are relatively weak, they are in abundance and may cause noticeably damage to painted surfaces and fabrics, such as the seat cover, in the long run. 

The Battery Needs to Be Removed for Charging 

When an ATV is not used in a few weeks and for no more than three months, you should remove the battery for charging. 

When storing your ATV indoors in a dry garage, you could charge the battery while still in the vehicle, at least in a pinch. However, when the ATV is kept outdoors, you’re better off removing the battery and charging it somewhere dry where moisture won’t disturb the charger and the charging process. 

How UV-Radiation From the Sun Affects an ATV

While I’m not one to complain about a sunny day, it’s essential to keep in mind that too much sun exposure can be harmful to your ATV. 

UV radiation from the sun may negatively impact several of an ATV’s materials. Natural and synthetic polymers such as rubbers, paints, and PVC are particularly prone to damage, known as UV degradation.

Some materials are designed to be more UV-resistant than others, so it can be hard to predict how severely affected your specific ATV will be. Your best bet will be keeping your bike away from direct sunlight whenever not in use. 

These are some of the materials used in ATVs that typically get negatively affected by UV radiation: 

  • Paint: Painted surfaces may fade, change color and produce a chalky surface. You can polish larger surfaces to restore some shine, but smaller components such as A-arms, suspension, and the handlebar can be more fiddly to repair. 
  • Rubbers and PVC: Parts made from rubber such as brake lever protectors, handlebar grips, CV-boots, wiring, and tires are receptive to UV degradation. The same applies to PVC used in some seat covers. When these materials get exposed to too much UV radiation, they may fade color, lose strength, becomes less flexible, crack and begin to disintegrate. This process happens gradually and can be hard to notice before it’s too late. 

An ATV Kept Outdoors Are More Exposed to Critters

When taking your ATV out of storage, critters and animals may have left an unpleasant surprise for you to discover.  

The seat is particularly prone to damage where mice can eat away pieces, or cats may use the seat cover to sharpen their claws. Late fall, when many put away their ATV for the winter, is also the same time when mice are on the lookout for their winter residence and maybe a plate to give birth to their offspring. 

While few places are completely safe against unwanted guests like these, but your ATV is undoubtedly more exposed when left outdoors than in a dry and preferably closed-off garage or shed. 

Moss and Fungus Buildup

You’d be amazed at how much moss or fungus can grow on an ATV left outdoors through a couple of late-fall, or winter months, depending on your local climate and vegetation. 

Dust blowing in the wind may add to the problem by creating a coating of dirt required for most moss and fungus types to thrive. 

Keeping your ATV clean can extend the life of various components. Even if you clean your bike properly before storage, keeping it clean is much easier in a garage’s dry and protected environment than outdoors.

ATVs Are More Prone to Theft Outdoors

Your typical ATV thief is an opportunist, a smash and grab type that will take whatever they can get their hands on. 

An ATV left outside is first and foremost more visible, and therefore more prone to theft than when parked in a garage. The barrier of a locked garage door is another aspect that favors keeping your bike indoors. 

Related: 13 Effective Tips to Prevent ATV Theft

How Ice and Sub-Zero Temperatures May Affect an ATV

Keeping your ATV outside in the winter in sub-zero climates adds a new range of issues caused by ice and freezing temperatures.

Water may enter and freeze inside components such as the ignition, all types of electric switches, as well as inside the throttle or brake cable sleeve, effectively leaving them unusable until you get a chance to thaw them back up. 

Condensation in the oil tank or fuel tank is another common issue related to riding in sub-zero temperatures. Keep an eye for rising oil levels in the oil tank as this may indicate that condensation has collected in the bottom of the tank. 

While condensation issues apply to all ATVs operated in sub-zero temperatures, ATVs parked outside are more exposed to rapid temperature changes, the leading cause of condensation. 

Any condensation needs to be drained. To prevent condensation, make sure to run the ATV long enough for it to reach operating temperatures each time you ride it. Also, consider installing an engine heater kit if condensation is causing you significant issues in the winter.