Bust Motorcycle Rust

Rusteco has an easy way to rid your gas tank and other parts of rust that won't hurt your paint, your environment. or your body. By Evans Brasfield.

Rust never sleeps, as Neil Young observed, and cruisers who live in climates with seasons that include a real winter annually face the sad reality of letting their bikes sit for several months. Most riders understand the necessity of winterizing a bike to keep it from deteriorating while it is in storage. Unfortunately, some riders don't bother to winterize their rides--not out of negligence but out of the desire to keep riding. Some of these folks simply refuse to believe that their riding season is over. Three months later they open their bike's gas tank and discover the horror of rust in the partially filled tank.

Once rust gets established in a tank it spreads like weeds in a lawn. Not looking in the tank while refueling can only be described as denial. Until recently, treating the rusty interior of tank with a tank liner kit was the only remedy. While tank lining is an effective rust removal and prevention system, two concerns have led home mechanics to fear the process. First, the rust is removed with an acid that eats the oxidized metal. Unfortunately, the acid also dines on good metal and paint. Disposing of the acid poses another problem. Finally, if the directions for the acid etching and the application of the lining material are not followed to the letter, the liner may, at some point in the future, peel away from the tank interior, causing other problems.

When we first heard that a company that claimed to offer a rust-removal product that was non-toxic, would not damage paint, and had no disposal restrictions, our response could be ranked way toward the "Yeah, right" end of the spectrum. However, we were soon turned into true believers.

Rusteco has been safely removing rust from all kinds of metals for more than 10 years. The company's primary business comes from heavy industry. For example, when pumps used to flood the sets in the movie "Titanic<" became fouled with saltwater corrosion, Rusteco came to the rescue. Rusteco started treating motorcycle parts in 1993.

The company's secret is the Rusteco R-200-3 corrosion treatment and preventative. Manufactured from citric acids, R-200-3 is safe to use on all metals and does not harm skin, paint, rubber, or plastic. Since the Rusteco treatment only attacks oxidized metal, it doesn't etch a clean metal surface and, therefore, causes no metal loss. The treated metal will retain a degree of rust protection as long as it doesn't come into contact with water. The treated surface can even be painted without primer. (However, painters--being a cautious lot--will most likely recommend that the surface be primed anyway.) The Rusteco treatment's most amazing feature is its non-toxic nature. R-200-3 that has had its strength depleted through rust removal can even be used as fertilizer!

To investigate the effectiveness of the Rusteco treatment, we used a tank that had been sitting for over two years with a half-gallon of gas in it. We also sawed a rusty Virago tank in half to show before and after pictures. To this we added a selection of rusty nuts and bolts, a piece of rusty scrap metal, and a custom-painted tank--to test the effect on the paint.

Rusteco's Michael Nahm showed us around his surprisingly simple facility, which consists of a product-storage area (for Rusteco product shipments and customer parts), a rust-treatment area (containing various-sized vats of R-200-3), and a high-pressure wash area.

All parts treated at Rusteco undergo the same process as our tank. First, they receive a pressure wash to remove any loose rust or other debris. Next, the parts are immersed in a vat of the light blue R-200-3 solution overnight.

If a fuel tank has tank sealer in it, the loosened sealer is pulled out of the tank a bit at a time after the first soak. Since this process is quite labor-intensive, Rusteco charges extra to treat sealed fuel tanks.

After the first soak, the tanks are pressure washed again and inspected. If any remaining rust is apparent, the long soak followed by rinsing is repeated. When the parts are completely rust-free, a final R-200-3 bath coats the bare metal to prevent oxidization. The parts are then dried with compressed air, and all openings in the fuel tanks are sealed with tape to keep out humidity. Tanks are usually turned around in two business days.

When we returned to Rusteco two days later to pick up our parts, we were astounded by the results. Our Virago tank half looked almost new. Only the areas where the rust had etched into the metal betrayed the tank's formerly neglected state. The tank that sat for two and a half years also looked like new. But when we filled it with gas, we found a pinhole near the bottom. Nahm explained that this hole resulted from the rust eating all the way through the metal. Once the rust was removed, nothing remained to contain the fuel. He said that the problem is rare and occurs most often in tanks that have been sealed, since sealing is a common method for plugging pinholes.

Our custom-painted tank, which didn't suffer from rust but was used as a paint test case, showed no ill effects from the treatment. The assorted nuts and bolts we treated later with Rusteco's Starter Kit also underwent an impressive change. Only an overnight soak and a couple swipes with an old toothbrush were required to return them to like new status. The piece of metal we painted with the gel cleaned up with elbow grease and a 3M abrasive pad. We were happy with the results of all the Rusteco products and recommend them to owners who want to bring their rusty bikes back to optimum condition.

Rusteco sells treatment packages in various sizes direct to the public from two distribution centers. The Rusteco Starter Kit ($38) contains two quarts of the liquid R-200-3 and one quart of R-200-3 gel. Five-gallon drums of the Rusteco liquid retail for $195 and will treat 10-20 tanks, depending on the severity of the rust. When the solution turns from light blue to dark brown, its effectiveness has been significantly reduced. Since the solution is non-toxic (boat yards are big consumers of the product because it doesn't harm aquatic life), it can simply be poured down the drain. Rusteco's West Coast facility will treat tanks on the premises with prices ranging from $55 for 2.5-gallon tanks to $95 for 6-gallon tanks.

2029 W. 16th St.
Long Beach, CA 90813
(562) 432-4868

To learn more about the rust-free world of Motorcycle Cruiser's former associate editor, visit www.EvansBrasfield.com.

For more articles on how to maintain and modify your motorcycle, see the Tech section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Rusteco is so safe, California OSHA doesn't require workers to wear gloves. The 1936 Model-T truck cab in the background sat in the desert for over 25 years. A three-day soak in R-200-3 readied it for restoration. Photos by Dean Groover.
We cut this Virago tank in half to observe Rusteco's effectiveness. This is the tank before the treatment.
And this is the same part after the Rusteco bath. We cut this Virago tank in half to demonstrate Rusteco's effectiveness. Note how the pattern of the rust is still visible. Rusteco only removes the rust and doesn't etch the clean metal.
Before an overnight soak in Rusteco R-200-3, the right bolt looked like the one on the left. The threads were brushed lightly with a toothbrush and then dried with a rag.
The Rusteco Starter Kit ($38) includes two quarts of Rusteco R-200-3 to be used as an immersion treatment for small parts like nuts, bolts, or calipers. The gel can be painted onto larger parts.
All tanks are pressure washed before and after the first treatment, flushing any large chunks of rust or other debris from the tank. After the final immersion, forced air will be used to dry the protectant.