One of the most annoying things about owning an ATV or Dirt Bike is dealing with fading or cracked plastics. No matter how great it runs, if the plastics look bad it will be the only thing you notice. In this article we cover a few easy ways to refinish your plastics without breaking the bank.
Want to jump to the repair techniques? Choose your problem below:
What Caused Plastics to Fade?
It’s pretty obvious what causes a crack, but what causes your ATV and Dirt Bike plastic to fade is a bit more difficult to explain.
Plastic is made primarily from refined crude oil. When it sits in the sun for extended periods, the surface level oils can evaporate and cause the plastic to dry out. Dried plastic loses its sheen and fades. Extremely dried plastics can even crack, making it very difficult to fix.
Plastic fade can appear differently depending on the color. Darker colors will develop a white layer on top of the plastic. It can be scraped off with a razor blade but leaves behind a dull color underneath. Lighter colors can yellow from sun exposure as the plastic dries out.
How To Reduce and Refinish Plastic Fade
To refinish plastic fade, you have the unique challenge of adding back oils into the surface of your ATV or Dirt Bike. As difficult as it sounds, it actually is much easier using any of the four techniques we discuss below.
Plastic Refinish Kits
There are a litany of products online that claim to refinish plastics, but what ones actually work? Here are the three we’ve tried and their results.
CarGuys Plastic Restorer
This was the third plastic restorer we tried to bring back the original green color on our Yamaha Bruin 350. The first three did the job, but the CarGuys Plastic Restorer did it the best, and with the longest shine. It is easy to apply with the foam pad applicator included with the bottle. And if you don’t like how it looks, CarGuys offers a zero risk purchase. You can return the bottle for a refund, no questions asked. Something you don’t see that often these days.
TriNova Plastic Restorer
This was the first plastic restorer we tried, and really liked the shine it produced. It took a bit longer to dry but left a long term shine on the plastics. You need to keep it clear while drying because it will trap dirt and bugs in the finish. I would also suggest letting it sit in the sun for 12+ hours after application and wiping off the excess multiple times to reduce any streaking when it gets wet.
The easiest of the refinishing techniques uses focused heat to bring the oils inside the plastic to the surface. It is most commonly performed with a heat gun to ensure there is no direct contact between flame and the plastic. It also works best when applied in smaller areas, as it can be tough to get a uniform sheen with this method.
1. Test this method on the under side of a fender or somewhere with low visibility. It takes technique to know when to stop applying heat.
2. If you heat gun has multiple settings, start with the lowest heat first. Apply heat at a longer distance of 1 foot to gently warm the area.
3. Slowly move in toward the plastics with the heat gun, focusing on an area about the size of the heat gun. Let the plastic heat until you see it start to become shiny and smooth (almost looks like the plastic is melting.
4. Quickly remove heat and allow that area to cool. Check back to ensure the shine remains in that spot. If it becomes dull, it may 1 or 2 more applications to become more permanent.
5. Don’t try to over heat the plastics. It won’t expedite the process. You will likely melt the plastic and no matter how much heat you apply, you can’t fix that.
Paint Thinner and Boiled Linseed Oil
This is a method that has been floating around the forums forever and we can attest that it does work. Using a simple mixture of these two items, you can renew the shine of your plastics.
1. Pre-mix in a container or spray bottle 3 parts boiled linseed oil to 2 parts paint thinner.
2. Pour some of the mixture onto your plastics or on a rag, and wipe along the surface. It will be a bit runny so make sure you keep the rag moving. The secret here is to apply a thin layer to the entire surface area.
3. Let the mixture sit for about 20-30 minutes in the sun. The heat will open up the pores of the plastic, letting more of the mixture set in.
4. Wipe the plastics with a clean rag, removing the excess mixture. Let it sit in the sun for another 30 minutes to dry to the touch.
In our experience it is not permanent, but when applied a few times each year you can really make your plastics look new. The only downside to this method is i can be tacky after application, so dirt or grim can stick if you don’t wash down the vehicle first.
Sand and Buff
The most permanent but also the most time intensive option for refinishing your plastics is to sand and buff them. Sanding the plastics removes the dry faded area, exposing the underlying oils. Buffing then ensures a smooth finish, like it came from the factory floor.
1. Depending on the how bad the plastics are faded will determine which starting sand paper you want to use. Typically you will want to start with a 400 grit however if you are having trouble getting through the haze you can move down to a 220 grit. Anything lower and you will remove too much plastic, potentially sanding through the part all together.
2. All sanding should be done with wet sand paper, as well as continuous water on the plastics. This will ensure that the sand paper doesn’t gum up, and will create a smoother finish. I keep a bucket of water on hand and dip the sand paper in every 20 seconds or so. In this phase you want to remove the majority of the hazing.
3. After the area has been thoroughly sanded. Switch to 800 grit sand paper and repeat the process. This will remove the remaining haze.
4. Next finish with a 1200 grit sand paper to smooth out any minor scratches in the plastic.
5. Lastly you want to buff the area with a buffing compound to remove all scratches and create a mirror like shine in the plastics.
You should also consider how to remove any existing stickers on the vehicle. If the stickers have any clear sections, the faded plastic behind will show through unless you remove the sticker and sand behind it.
How to Repair Cracked or Broken Plastics
In the event that you crack a plastic or worse, break it, the first thing that crosses your mind is the cost of replacing the whole panel. That can set you back $100 to $500 if you find a used set. New plastics can be twice that much.
Welding plastic isn’t a perfect fix. It will close up any gaps, add rigidity and make the parts look good from a far. But when you get close, you will see the seam.
I set these expectations because some people will get upset when the plastic repair is done, and it doesn’t look brand new. If you need a good quality fix and don’t want to spend the money on a new part, then keep reading.
Plastic welding uses direct heat to melt the two ends of plastic so they can be pressed together and dried. Often the weld is not strong enough by itself to hold up against moderate use, so a metal mesh is introduced to the weld to strengthen the bond.
In this video the speaker is using a heat gun instead of a plastic welder. As you can see, it works just as effectively but may require some additional time to get the plastic to melt.
1. Clean and sand each edge of the plastic you are bonding to create a good bonding surface.
2. Prepare your tools by plugging in the welder, and having the mesh on hand for easy use.
3. Slowly heat up the inside edges of both pieces, favoring the side of the plastic which is less visible normally. You don’t want to over melt any area as it will create bumps when pressed together, or worse it will create gaps.
4. Push the two pieces of plastic back together to create a bond that we can go back and strengthen. If you are not using mesh, use the welder to melt the plastic on the bottom side of the plastic, creating more surface area for the parts to bond.
5. Place a small piece of mesh over the entire length of the seam, overlapping about a half inch to an inch on each side. Use the plastic welder to push down on the mesh and melt it into the plastic. You don’t need to over do it, just enough that it holds firmly.
6. Complete this process across the entire mesh to strengthen the weld. If you are repainting the plastic you can use some bondo or high build primer to hide the weld on either side.