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How To Paint The Plastic Fuel Tank On Your Bike

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Are you restoring a motorcycle or wanting to customize your current bike? Painting and adding a decal to your fuel tank can certainly be a part of this process. Often, fuel tanks can get discolored or rusted over time. Learning how to touch up and paint these tanks yourself can save money while designing a custom look. Are you wondering what the process of painting a plastic fuel tank looks like? Great! We are here today to lay out a detailed guide on painting the plastic fuel tank on your bike and more. 

To paint the plastic fuel tank on your bike, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the fuel tank, empty any remaining fuel
  2. Prep the surface of your fuel tank
  3. Apply primer
  4. Apply color
  5. Seal with clear coat

These five steps will leave you with a new-looking fuel tank in no time. Keep reading as we go on to discuss the details in each step and what materials and tools you may need along the way. 

Yellow and red colored motocycles parked in street, How To Paint The Plastic Fuel Tank On Your Bike

How to Paint your Bike's Plastic Fuel Tank

Plastic fuel tanks differ from other materials because gasses can permeate plastic, causing paint and other graphics to bubble up. Luckily, there are paints out there that can combat this effect, allowing you to get this job done successfully. Let's take a closer look at the steps in the painting process. 

1. Remove The Fuel Tank, Empty Any Remaining Fuel

The first step in this process is removing the fuel tank from your bike. Ensure that you empty all fuel before removing the tank from the bike. With the fuel tank separated, remove the caps and valves. Protect the openings of your tank by applying masking tape over them. 

Amazon offers multi-surface masking tape here.

2. Prep The Surface Of Your Fuel Tank

Next, you will prep the surface of your fuel tank to get it ready for a new coat. Give your tank a wash with soap and water to remove debris and dirt on the outside. Remove any stickers or other decals present. 

With some fuel tanks, you may have a thick layer of grime to remove. This can be done by scraping a knife's edge along the tank or, to have fewer scratches, you can utilize different grits of sandpaper. To speed up this process, you can use a finishing sander to wet sand your tank. 

Click here to have a look at this orbital finishing sander here on Amazon.

3. Apply Primer

Once your old paint has been removed and your tank surface has been prepped and smoothed, you can start to apply the new layers. First, you will need to prime the surface. Use a plastic-specific primer for this job. Spray an even layer or primer, covering the entire surface of your tank. You can apply 1-2 layers of primer for an even turn-out. Allow time to dry between layers.  

This primer here on Amazon is a multi-surface primer, great for plastics.

4. Apply Color

After your primer has completely dried, you can add your custom color to the tank. Just like the primer, your colored paint needs to be plastic-specific. Evenly apply 1-3 layers of color onto your tank, with time to dry in between. 

Click here to see this automotive acrylic enamel paint here on Amazon.

What Paint Can I Use On A Fuel Tank?

Choosing paint for a fuel tank can be tricky. There are some guidelines to follow to ensure your paint will last. Often, fuel tanks get exposed to outdoor environments that the paint needs to be able to withstand. On top of that, the fumes from the fuel can affect the paint. So, which type of paints can you successfully use on a fuel tank?

Acrylic enamel paints and catalyzed urethane paints are recommended for fuel tanks. Urethane paints have a chemical base that actually hardens once it cures. Once hardened, this paint doesn't interact with solvents, like fuel, making this the ideal paint for a fuel tank. 

5. Seal With Clear Coat

If you used catalyzed urethane paint to color your tank, there is no need to seal the layer. However, if you used acrylic enamel paint in step 4, then you will need to seal and protect the paint. Seal your previous paint layers with a clear, high gloss, or no gloss finish.

See this high gloss permanent sealant here on Amazon.

Allow your fuel tank to dry for the next 24-48 hours. Once completely dry, you can remove the protective tape, place the fuel tank bake on your bike, and enjoy the new look. 

The video below showcases a DIY project of painting a plastic fuel tank from start to finish. 

Learn more on our blog post, "How Much Does It Cost To Paint A Motorcycle?"

Can Plastic Motorcycle Gas Tanks Be Painted?

Plastic motorcycle gas tanks can be painted. Many new tanks have been specially processed not to allow gas fumes to permeate the tank. In these cases, you have a larger option for what type of paints you can use on your gas tank. However, if you have an older tank, chances are it has not been processed in this way, and fumes may come through and cause your paint layers to bubble up. 

red cap of fuel tank with petrol symbol

To avoid paint bubbling up or falling off, you will need specific paints for these tanks. Catalyzed urethane paint, which we mentioned above, is the best option for these jobs. Instead of painting, other DIYers have taken to dying their plastic fuel tanks, another option to explore. If you're curious about the dying process, check out this video:

Where Do I Find My Motorcycle Paint Code?

If you want to paint your fuel tank or another part of your bike the same color as the rest of the bike, you will need your motorcycle paint code. This code can be researched using certain information, such as the paint name given by the manufacturer.

Using that paint name, you can match it up using online VIN decoders or contact an automotive paint store for the code. You can try looking on your motorcycle's certification label or service parts identification sticker for this information as well. 

How Do You Paint A Rusty Gas Tank?

Plastic gas tanks have the downfall of fumes permeating through, while metal gas tanks have the issue of rust. If you are working with a rusty gas tank, you will need to remove the rust before you start lying down new paint. 

old motorbike stored in a barn with dried up leaves on the floor

Removing rust from the outside could just take time, patience, and different grit sandpapers. Make sure you take a look inside your gas tank as well. If you find rust is present here, you will need to treat this too. Rust can be removed from the inside of a gas tank by using vinegar and baking soda mix

The video below showcases the process of removing rust from the inside of a gas tank. 

Read more on our blog post, "Can You Pain Exhaust Pipes? [And How To]"

What Is The Best Paint For Motorcycle Engines?

You can take your bike customization to the next level by painting the motorcycle engine. Painting an engine is not only for looks. This process can help protect your engine from rust and damage as well. 

There are a handful of paints acceptable for motorcycle engines. Which option is the best for you can depend on your budget, what type of heat-resistance you need, and the color you are looking for. The best paint brands to choose from for your engine include Dupli-Color, Rust-Oleum, and Brite Touch. 

You can find Brite Touch Engine paint here on Amazon.

Dupli-Color engine paint is great if you are looking for a high gloss finish. The resistance to heat and durability are positives to this brand as well. Rust-Oleum is resistant to humidity and rust while reducing exhaust smoke. Brite touch brands are fast drying and offer a high gloss finish, but the heat resistance is a bit lower when compared to the other brands of engine paint. 

Amazon offers Rust-Oleum engine enamel in multiple colors here.

In Summary

Painting a plastic fuel tank can be done, and in fewer steps, than you may have thought. The hardest part is choosing your appropriate paints, and the time it takes to prep your surface. This project can leave you with a custom look to your fuel tank, really tying the bike together.

Picking the right primer, paints, and sealants is vital to ensure long-lasting results that combat the permeating fumes from your fuel. We hope you found this article helpful when creating a design of your own, and perhaps you found some inspiration within the information. 

Are you looking to paint more than just your bike? Have a look through our blog post, "How Can I Decorate My Motorcycle Helmet?"