If you live and ride where your ATV encounters moist or wet conditions regularly and do not take the necessary precautions, rust will eventually 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 bike’s 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 rust appears.
As you might know, iron and steel’s corrosion process requires water and oxygen. Without the presence of water or oxygen, there will be no rust.
Out of the two elements, water is the easiest to keep away from metal components. That’s why rust prevention usually, in some way or other, aims to prevent water from coming in contact with bare metal.
With a few simple steps, you can significantly reduce the chances of rust developing on your machine. Some of these are quick and easy and should be implemented in your ATV’s regular maintenance routine.
1. Clean the ATV Thoroughly After Riding in Salt
As salt will speed up any ongoing rust development, removing it from the ATV as soon as possible after riding anywhere there is a risk of salt contaminating your bike is crucial.
If the temperatures are not too far below freezing, 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 for removing salt from boats if you want to be safe.
If you don’t have access to a hot water pressure washer, a regular pressure washer or a hose with a nozzle will work 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.
But when the temperature gets above freezing, you should wash the bike. 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 the throttle and brake cables and on the brakes, where it will freeze and leave the bike useless until the ice melts again.
Just park the bike outside or in a cold garage until warmer weather.
2. Brush off Snow and Ice Before Storage
Snow and ice will not cause any damage as long as they stay in their solid frozen form. But rust will start developing when it melts and turns into water.
When you are done riding, brush off as much snow as possible using your hands or any suitable object that does not damage the bike.
Then park the bike in a dry, cold place, as described in step 4.
3. Clean off 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 mud, dirt, or debris buildup, as this will retain moisture. If you wait too long after riding before cleaning, the moisture will soon initiate corrosion 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 trapped in the exhaust or sitting on the engine evaporates. This will also prevent any condensation inside the motor.
4. Always Park the ATV Somewhere Dry
Good ventilation is essential so any moisture left on the bike, whether from snow and ice or water after washing, can evaporate and disappear quickly without getting trapped in the same room as the bike.
Open all available vents and windows if possible. This will allow the moisture to escape quickly and significantly 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. 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 long time before the bike is completely dry. In the meantime, rust will develop like crazy.
If your garage is too warm, it’s better to park outside.
Ideally, the garage should match the outdoor temperature 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.
Related: Where to Store Your ATV? 9 Best Ways
5. Use a Well-Ventilated Storage Cover
Alternatively, if you don’t have access to a garage, you should always put a waterproof cover over your bike. Use a cover made of 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 Regularly
If the bike was submerged in water or you’ve cleaned it with a pressure washer, you should pump some grease in all the grease fittings.
These fittings should be marked with a small sticker indicating what needs greasing.
Some 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, making the process much more enjoyable.
The grease will displace any remaining water trapped inside bushings and bearings, preventing rust from developing inside. Any rust there will result in premature wear of these moving parts.
7. Apply a Thin Protective Oil Film
There is no way to remove the humidity (moisture) from the air. Any exposed steel will rust even when the bike is dry, so you must protect it.
You want to spray the bike’s undercarriage 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.
Caution! 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 also coat the underside of your plastic fenders. By doing this, mud and debris will not stick as easily, making cleaning the bike later a lot easier.
Almost any oil or silicone-based product can be used, but some work better.
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 safe, you should ensure the product you choose is rated safe for use on rubber.
Is it anything the famous WD-40 cannot be used for? Amongst all its other uses, it does an excellent job of protecting and preventing your ATV from rusting. As far as I know, the silicone version will not harm 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 to protect their cars’ undersides 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, plastics, or anything else on the bike, but they recommend that you wipe off any excess spray from the rubbers.
Polaris offers its 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 washout.
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 a Cheap Synthetic Motor Oil
This is a budget-friendly alternative that works very well. Be aware that you may end up with a sticky underside that attracts all kinds of dust and sand if you use too much. Use only new, unused synthetic oil, as used oil can contain all sorts of contaminants.
8. Regularly Apply Chain Grease on the Chain
If your bike has one, apply new chain grease to the drive chain after every time you have cleaned it. The goal is always to keep a film of oil covering the bare metal of the chain.
9. Repair Any Nicks in the Paint
Any visible nicks or scratches in the paint should be repaired immediately.
It’s a good idea to inspect the bike for any rust or damage as soon as the snow has melted in springtime. Then once more at late fall before the snow arrives again.
- Thoroughly clean the ATV and let it completely dry.
- Use a wire brush or a screwdriver to remove loose rust flakes and paint.
- Then you can use sandpaper or a spot sandblaster to remove the remaining rust. I prefer the latter because it removes more rust, leaving a better result. But remember, even sandblasting will leave a small amount of rust deep in the metal’s pores.
- Clean the affected area with strong alcohol like paint thinner or any other commercially available surface prepping product. This removes all oils and fats, as paints do not bond well with greasy surfaces.
- After the detergent has evaporated, apply one coat of a quality rust converter or a metal primer to prevent any remaining rust from developing. I prefer the rust converter as this also works well as a primer.
- Finish off with two layers of quality paint the same color as the part you are repairing. I use spray paint made for car rims from my local hardware store, as this is very impact resistant and matches the matte black color on my Polaris frame.
10. Use a Fuel Stabilizer to Prevent Rust in the Gas Tank
If your ATV has a metal gas tank, you want to ensure 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 that has a metal fuel tank, you should fill up the tank with gas and add a fuel stabilizer to avoid rust. Run the engine for some minutes to distribute the stabilized fuel throughout the system.
11. Use Antiseize to Prevent Bolts From Rusting Stuck
Make sure you use Loctite or anti-seize on all bolts and fasteners that routinely come off 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. Never Get Water Inside Your Engine
While there is a lot you can do to relatively easily prevent or even remove rust on your ATV’s exterior components, there is a whole different story regarding the inside of the engine.
If you submerge your bike in water or mud below your air intake level, water will be sucked into the engine.
This will make your engine start rusting from the inside, which is obviously not good and will shorten its life expectancy by quite a bit.
Riders regularly riding in deep mud often install snorkels on their air intakes to prevent this.
13. Protect the ATV Underside With Skid Plates
This popular accessory is often mounted to prevent damage to the frame and undercarriage 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 explicitly for each ATV model.
I prefer the aluminum ones as they can be repaired with a hammer and a TIG welder if necessary.
14. Apply a Protective Coating on Exposed Parts
This tip can be time-consuming as you must disassemble the components 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 frame’s lower parts.
15. Prevent Corrosion on Aluminum Parts
That’s right; it’s not only steel that corrodes.
Bare aluminum parts such as aluminum wheels will also corrode and quickly lose their factory shine after exposure to the elements for some time. This is purely an aesthetical issue, though.
You could apply a couple of layers of clear coat paint to prevent this from happening to your shiny aluminum parts.
But because of the rough handling that ATV rims usually are victims of, this coating will soon become damaged, and you may have to redo the whole rim.
If shiny rims are vital to you, I recommend getting a good aluminum polish and doing this job when required. It does take some effort, but if you put the time into it, you should expect mirror-like results that will last a reasonable amount of time.