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How to Re-Paint a Motorcycle Gas Tank

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So you've got a gas tank, old or new, and you want to give it a new look or fix it up yourself. Well, you've found the right article. I recently bought a 1982 Yamaha Seca 750XJ and the tank was rusted to hell, so I decided to take it upon myself to make it look good again.

Below, I'll tell you how to get the best results.

What You'll Need

  • Sanding block and sandpaper (wet and dry, 100 grit and 800 grit)
  • Paint thinner
  • Automotive spray paint primer
  • Automotive spray paint (colour of your choice; I prefer the metallic ones)
  • Automotive spray paint clear coat
  • Automotive wax/scratch remover and buffer cloth
  • Patience and time (anywhere from 3 days to a week)

A Note Before You Begin

Now before I go on, I just want to address those of you out there who are about to start hating on me for the process I used. Please remember this is the cheapest and (in my opinion) most rewarding way to do it.

About the paint: You can use any paint you want, the process is still the same, but I personally prefer spray cans. Some believe they give a shoddy-looking effect but honestly, I can say I've tried a few different ways, and my favourite for ease of use and cost effectiveness is the spray can. Now I'm not talking any old spray paint—you need the automotive stuff that you can pick up at your local automotive hardware store. I couldn't find it in paint shops but that may have just been my luck.

How to Paint a Gas Tank

Okay, here's how to do it to get pretty much the exact same results as a professional paint shop. (I say this because my buddy got his tank done professionally, and it looked absolutely no different than mine. His cost $400, mine cost $40.)

1. Remove the Tank

First things first, you need to get your tank off the bike. Now you want to make sure you close off any valves and whatnot so that when you start taking it off, gas isn't leaking everywhere. It sounds like common sense, but a lot of people forget to do this.

Every bike is different, but for the most part, you usually have to take off the seat first, then there is usually a large bolt you unscrew that's keeping your tank on the frame, and then of course close off the valves and undo them from the tank or the bike. If you're having trouble with this part, do a quick Google search on how to take off your bike's gas tank—there should be lots of how-tos online, or refer to your manual if you have one.

2. Protect Parts That Won't Be Painted

Tank's off? Good. Now we need to get started with protecting any openings or parts that you don't want to be painted (gas cap, hoses, and whatever else). If there isn't a lot of gas in the tank, I prefer emptying it and just cleaning it out. If you do this, you may also want to inspect the inside for any rust. (Older and some newer bikes can get rust on the inside of the tank, and that will most definitely start to cause problems, so take a look and if there is... well, that's another article, but you'll have to deal with that as well!)

Okay, so as I was saying, if you're unable to get some things off don't worry, you can just tape them off with some painter's tape or masking tape.

3. Take Off the Original Paint

Now you need to start getting the original paint off, or rust, or whatever is currently on the bike that you don't want there anymore. Get the sandpaper, get the sanding block, and get a bucket of water. To start, I'd go with the 80-200 grit. Put some water on the tank and start sanding. Note: This takes a while. My first time, I spent at least 10 hours sanding the tank.

So you're sanding most of the paint away, maybe starting to see some of that pretty silver of the metal tank— this is good. When you've sanded at least 90% of the tank, not down to the metal but have at least given most of the paint a good sanding, this is where it can start to get a bit easier.

4. Apply Paint Thinner

Get some paint thinner. I recommend getting a spray can full of it from an automotive hardware store, but just paint thinner and a shop cloth will do. Spray or dab some paint thinner onto the cloth and wipe down the entire tank. Leave it for a minute, maybe give it another wipe down, and go and grab a drink. Come back to it, and you'll notice that a lot of the paint has started to crack and bubble up.

Start sanding again and most of the paint should be coming off easily. If necessary, you can repeat, but you probably only have to do it once or twice. Note: Please make sure you're doing this in a well-ventilated area, and follow any and all instructions on the labels of what you use.

5. Wipe and Prime

So you've got a nice shiny metal gas tank now, right? Or at least most of the way there? Good, let's move on to the fun part. Here, you want to give it a nice wipe down to get rid of any grit or paint flakes and dry it off.

Now it's time for the primer. Give it a nice coat all over. The trick here is thin layers. Be sure to hold the can 8-10 inches away; otherwise, you'll get drips and then you have to go back to sanding it down. The first sweep with the spray can might cover 30%— you don't have to really lather it on. The second, you'll want to be a bit more methodical, going back and forth, making sure to keep good lines. This time, you want to cover 90% of the tank. The third time you spray, you want to do the same methodical back-and-forth but make sure to cover the full 100% of the tank. Check out the video below.

6. Dry, Then Spray Paint

So the primer is on now. Let it dry for about an hour or less, depending on the weather and the type, but usually an hour is more than good. Get the automotive spray paint you bought, and start doing the same as before. For your first coat, you'll keep it thin and go over about three times, the first time getting a good base (about 30% of the tank covered) the second covering about 90%, and in the third, you want to make sure you've coated the entire tank. Let this sit for about half an hour and then repeat in the same fashion. Once done, let it sit somewhere to dry thoroughly. I've found that this usually needs about a day or two and honestly, after all the work you've done, it's kind of nice to just let it sit for a bit and forget about it.

7. Sand Again

Okay, so it's been a few days and the tank is looking good and dry. You want to get your sanding block out again and this time, fit on the 800 grit sandpaper. Start sanding again! Make sure you get the high and low spots (tiny dips in the tank that are almost invisible until you start sanding and notice there's a low spot). You don't want to be too aggressive on this as you're not trying to take the paint off, you're merely trying to flatten any dust or bugs that have gotten stuck to the paint while it was drying.

8. Spray Clear Coat, Then Sand Again

After wiping it down with a wet cloth, you should be able to run your hand over it without feeling any tiny bumps. If you have over-sanded, you'll need to repeat the process with the paint, and then sand it again after it's dry (this time, with a lighter hand). Okay, so wipe off any dust with a wet cloth, dry it, and grab the clear coat. Spray on a clear coat the same way as before, three times, 1st time 30%, 2nd time 90%, and 3rd time 100% coverage.

Let this dry and if you like, give it another coat. It doesn't necessarily need it, but I like giving it that extra protection. Once this is dry (which will take another day or so), grab that sand paper and block again, this is the last time I promise! Sand it with the 800 again, this time getting the whole tank but very lightly. Remember, this is only for dust and bugs that may have gotten stuck to the paint while drying.

9. Buffer With Wax Polish

All done sanding?! Okay, you want to wipe it down again, making sure there is no dust or loose stuff on it, with a wet cloth is best, then dry it. Now grab some of that wax polish, put it on a soft cloth, and start buffering the tank. Rub it in nicely. I find this is where I start to really get some satisfaction as I can see the tank starting to shine and look really nice! Get the whole tank all waxed up and that's it.

10. Put the Tank Back On

Now you can put it back on to your bike, take a step back, and look at the beauty of the freshly painted tank that you did yourself! Pat yourself on the back. Good job, mate!

11. Apply Designs (Optional)

If you want designs on it or anything like that, before you put on the wax or the clear coat, you can tape off sections and do whatever you like. I've printed out designs and cut them out, then taped them on the tank, sprayed the cut-out and voila, you've got a design on there. Then just go back to step 8, put on the clear coat, and keep going.

You're Done!

Hope this helps you guys out. I know it's a bit long, but when I was doing it myself for the first time, I couldn't find anything that really gave all the instructions, just pieces here and there, so I wanted to be as in-depth as possible. Please feel free to give me feedback; I'm always open to constructive criticism! And if you have found a better way to do it let me know, I'd love to try it out!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.