If you live and ride somewhere your ATV encounters moist or wet conditions on a regular basis, and you do not take the necessary precautions, rust will at some point develop on the bike. If you drive on salty roads or near the sea it will happen even sooner.
Some ATV brands do a better job of protecting the bike than others, but all of them will rust at some point as long as they are made of steel or iron.
Rust does not only make your bike look bad, it may over time damage the structural integrity of your bikes frame or impact the function of critical components like brakes or suspension, leaving the bike dangerous to use. The exhaust system is usually the first place where rust will start to develop.
As you may know, the corrosion process of iron and steel needs both water and oxygen to happen. With no water or no oxygen, there will be no rust.
Water is for obvious reasons the easiest of the two elements to keep away from the metal.
That’s why rust prevention usually in some way or other aims to prevent water from coming in contact with the bare metal.
There are a few simple steps you can take to greatly lessen the chances of rust developing on your machine. Many of them are quick and easy and should be implemented in your regular maintenance routine of the machine.
1. Always clean your ATV thoroughly if you have been riding in or near any salt
As salt will speed up any ongoing rust development, it is crucial to remove it from the ATV as soon as possible after riding anywhere there is a risk of salt contaminating your bike.
As long as the temperatures are not too far below the freezing point, the best option is to clean thoroughly with a hot water pressure washer. Do not forget the underside. Tilt the bike if necessary to get good access.
You can also get a special soap made for removing salt off of boats if you really want to be on the safe side.
If you don’t have access to a hot water pressure washer, a regular pressure washer, or even just a hose with a nozzle will work just fine.
If temperatures are below freezing and certainly if they are more than 5 degrees below freezing, it’s better to wait until warmer weather with the cleaning.
As soon as the temperature gets above freezing you should wash it. If the temperature stays above freezing, I recommend washing the ATV weekly when riding in salty conditions.
If you still decide to wash it when it is too cold, the water will enter all kinds of places like inside throttle and brake cables, on the brakes etc. where it will freeze and leaving the bike useless until the ice melts again.
Just park the bike outside or in a cold garage until the weather gets warmer.
2. Brush off snow and ice before storing
Snow and ice will not do any significant damage as long as they stay in its solid frozen form. But as soon as any of it melts and turns into water, rust will start developing.
When you are done riding, brush off as much of the snow as you can, using your hands or any suitable object that does not damage the bike.
Then you should just park the bike in a dry, cold place as described in step 4.
3. Clean of any mud, dirt or debris
It’s not only salt and snow that needs to be removed to prevent rust.
It’s also important to clean off any buildup of mud, dirt or debris as this will retain moisture. If you wait too long after riding before cleaning, the moisture will soon start the corrosion process on any steel or iron.
As a bonus, the bike is much easier to clean if you do it when the mud is still fresh. Again the pressure washer will be your go-to tool.
It’s a good idea to make it a habit to clean the bike just as you are done riding. I like having my pressure washer set up and ready to go with just a push of a button at all times. This way the chances of actually using it are much higher.
After washing I recommend starting the engine and running it for a couple of minutes, letting the engine heat up so that any water that is trapped in the exhaust or is sitting on the engine itself will evaporate. This will also prevent any condensation inside the motor.
4. Always store or park the ATV in a dry, well-ventilated garage or carport
Good ventilation is important so that any moisture that is left on the bike, whether it comes from snow and ice, or water after washing, can evaporate and disappear quickly without getting trapped in the same room at the bike.
Open all available vents and windows if possible. This will allow the moisture to escape quickly and greatly lessen the chance of rust developing.
If your storage does not have sufficient ventilation you could consider getting a dehumidifier to place in the room. However, the operating costs of running an electric machine like this can add up over time, so I recommend aiming for sufficient passive ventilation by installing extra vents if needed.
Do not fall for the temptation of putting your snowy bike in a heated garage as the heat will only speed up the rust development. Especially when the snow on the bike contains salt, it is crucial to keep it in a frozen state. The heat will melt the snow stuck on the bike allowing the embedded salt to start its destructive work.
Even if the snow is “salt-free” (most water contains some degree of salt) it will take a looong time before the bike is completely dry. In the meantime, rust will develop like crazy.
It’s actually better to park outside if your garage is too warm.
It’s best if the garage holds the same temperature as outdoors at all times. As long as the temperature inside stays below freezing, the snow and ice will not turn into liquid water and should not impose any danger regarding rust development.
5. Use a well-ventilated cover if you don’t have a garage
As an alternative, if you don’t have a garage available, you should always put a waterproof cover over your bike. Use a cover that is made of a breathable fabric so that moisture will not be trapped underneath the cover. Remember, the aim is to keep the bike as dry as possible.
Do not use a plain plastic cover as this will keep all moisture trapped underneath together with the bike.
6. Grease all grease fittings on a regular basis
Any time the bike has been submerged in water or any time you have done a thorough cleaning with a pressure washer, you should pump some grease in all of the bikes grease fittings.
These fittings should be marked with a small sticker, indicating what needs greasing.
Some of the grease fittings on ATVs are usually in very tight spots, leaving it hard to operate a two-handed grease press while trying to keep the nipple in place. I recommend getting an air pressured or battery powered grease press as this will make the whole process much more enjoyable.
The grease will squeeze out any remaining water trapped inside bushings and bearings, preventing any rust from developing inside. Any rust there will result in premature wear of these moving parts.
7. Apply a thin film of a protective oil product
When you are done with the grease press, you can move over to your spray-can of preference. There is no way to completely remove the humidity (moisture) from the air. Any exposed steel will rust even when the bike is dry, so you need to protect it.
What you want to do is to spray the undercarriage of the bike with a thin layer of one of the products listed below, which will function as a barrier to keep any moisture or oxygen from coming in contact with any bare metal.
This should be done after every time you have cleaned it. Make it a part of your regular maintenance routine.
IMPORTANT! All if this should be done when the bike is cold, as most of these products are highly flammable!
Parts of the bike that should be treated:
- any exposed portions of the frame
- the engine
- shocks and springs
- swing arm
- exhaust and muffler (this may result in a nasty smell when it heats up and burns off, so this one is optional, try a small spot first to see how the chosen product reacts to heat)
But never spray on the brake discs as this will reduce your braking effect to almost none!
While you are at it, you should coat the underside of your plastic fenders as well. By doing this mud and debris will not stick as easily, making cleaning the bike later a lot easier.
You can use almost any type of oil or silicone based product for this, but some are better than others.
Although I have not found any confirmation of this claim, mineral-based products are believed to degenerate rubber seals and gaskets over time. So to be on the safe side you should make sure the product you choose is rated safe to be used on rubber.
WD-40 (silicone based)
Is it anything the famous WD-40 cannot be used for? Amongst all of its other uses, it does a really good job of protecting and preventing your ATV from rusting. As far as I know, the silicone version will not harm and rubber or plastic.
This is another fantastic product, which happens to be my personal favorite. The product is actually a grease product that is extracted out of sheep’s wool, lanolin.
Many car enthusiasts swear to this product as their go-to product for protecting the underside of their cars from rusting. It should do a great job on ATVs as well.
Be aware that the product has a distinct smell that some do not like. It reduces over time, but I recommend applying on a small spot at first to see if this is something you can live with.
Fluid-Film will not harm rubbers and plastics or anything else on the bike, but they recommend that you wipe off any excess spray of the rubbers.
Polaris sells their own anti-rust product: Neverrust-spray. I have not tested this myself, but it is worth a try. The product is engineered to clean, lubricate and protect against rust and corrosion. The product is synthetic based and will withstand water wash out.
Other ATV brands have similar products, but it shouldn’t matter which one you use, get whatever is available.
Krown rust protection
This is a well-known product that should work well for our use.
Diesel or some cheap synthetic motor oil
This is the budget-friendly alternative that works very well. Be aware that if you use too much you may end up with a sticky underside that attracts all kinds of dust and sand. Use only new unused synthetic oil as used oil can contain all kinds of contaminants.
8. Put chain grease on the chain regularly
If your bike has one, apply new chain grease to the drive chain after every time you have cleaned it. The goal is to always keep a film of oil covering the bare metal of the chain.
9. Make sure you repair any nicks in the paint
Any visible nicks or scratches in the paint should be repaired as soon as you can.
It’s a good idea to inspect the bike for any rust or damages as soon as the snow has melted in springtime. Then once more at late fall before the snow arrives again.
- Start by cleaning the whole bike with a pressure washer and let it dry completely.
- Use a wire brush or a screwdriver to remove any loose rust flakes and paint.
- Then you can use sandpaper, or even better, a spot sandblaster to remove the remaining rust. I prefer the latter because it does remove more of the rust, leaving a better result. But remember, even sandblasting will leave a small amount of rust deep in the pores of the metal.
- Then you should clean the affected area with a strong alcohol like paint thinner or any of the commercially available surface prepping products. This is done to completely remove all oils and fats as paints do not bond well with greasy surfaces.
- After the detergent has completely evaporated you should apply one coat of a quality rust converter or a metal primer to prevent any remaining rust from developing any further. I prefer the rust converter as this also works well as a primer.
- Finish off with two layers of quality paint in the same color as the part you are repairing. I use a spray paint made for car rims that I get at my local hardware store as this is very impact resistant and matches the matte black color on my Polaris frame.
10. Prevent rust in the gas tank by adding fuel stabilizer
If your ATV has a metal gas tank you want to make sure rust does not develop inside the tank. This can result in carburetor issues or even a fuel leak over time
Anytime you want to store an ATV with a metal fuel tank over any length of time, you should fill up the tank with gas and add fuel stabilizer to avoid rust. Run the engine for some minutes to distribute the stabilized fuel throughout the system.
11. Prevent polts from rusting stuck by using Loctite or anti-seize
Make sure you use Loctite or anti-seize on all bolts and fasteners that routinely come of as a part of servicing and maintaining the bike. This will protect them from rust developing.
Rust on the bolt threads will make it near impossible to remove the bolt, so the future you, and the future you’s wallet, will be forever thankful if you incorporate this simple step into your maintenance routine today.
12. Don’t ever get water inside your engine
While there is a lot you can do to quite easy to prevent or even remove rust on the outside components of your ATV, there is a whole different story when it comes to the inside of the engine.
If you submerge your bike in water or mud below the level of your air intake, water will be sucked into the engine.
This will make your engine start rusting from the inside, which is obviously not good at all. It will shorten its life expectancy by quite a bit.
Have a look at this article to see what you should do if you did manage to submerge your bike.
Riders who regularly find themselves riding in a lot in deep mud will often install snorkels on their air intakes to prevent this from happening.
13. Protect the underside of your ATV by mounting skid plates
This very popular accessory is often mounted to prevent the frame and undercarriage from being damaged when riding in rocky conditions. This will prevent the paint on these parts from being scratched and exposed to the elements.
The kits are usually made of aluminum or plastic and are specifically made for each ATV model.
I prefer the aluminum ones as they can be repaired with a hammer and a TIG-welder if necessary.
14. Protect exposed components with a protective coating
This tip can be quite time-consuming as you likely will have to disassemble the components that you want to protect.
You can get a can of spray on polyurethane coating that will create an impact resistant layer on any component you want to protect. On an ATV I would use it on the A-arms and maybe mask off and spray the lower parts of the frame.
15. Prevent corrosion on aluminum parts
That’s right, it’s not only steel that rusts.
Bare aluminum parts such as aluminum wheels will also corrode and quickly lose their factory shine after being exposed to the elements for some time. This is purely an aesthetical issue though.
To prevent this from happening to your shiny aluminum parts, you could apply a couple of layers of clear coat paint.
But because of the rough handling that ATV rims usually are victims of, this coating will soon become damaged and you may end up having to redo the whole rim.
If shiny rims are important to you, I recommend getting a good aluminum polish and do this job when it is required. It does take some effort, but if you put the time into it, you should expect mirror-like results that will last for a good amount of time.