A DOT-approved motorcycle helmet is one of the most vital pieces of riding gear that a rider can own.
It will protect you from many serious head injuries and can even save your life. Follow motorcycle helmet manufacturers’ recommendations on when you should replace your helmet.
Let’s take a deeper look and find out if motorcycle helmets expire if only used a little.
Here’s the short answer to whether motorcycle helmets expire if only used a little:
Even without using your motorcycle helmet, UV rays, rain, improper storage, or dropping the helmet can cause damage. This damage can add up to an inefficient helmet that should be replaced, regardless of never wearing it. Damaged helmets won’t be as protective as newer, stronger ones.
Do Motorcycle Helmets Have a Maximum Shelf Life?
Although motorcycle helmets don’t come with an end date like the ones on perishable goods from the grocery store, motorcycle helmet manufacturing companies recommend you replace a helmet every 7 years after its production date, and after 5 years of use.
Even if a motorcycle helmet has never been used, it should still be replaced if it was produced 7 or more years ago.
If you take especially good care of the helmet you use regularly, replace it after 5 years.
Riding around in inclement weather or the hot summer exposes the outer shell of your helmet to harmful UV rays from the sun and other damaging elements like rain. This risks seriously shortening the shelf life of your helmet.
The shell or impact absorption liner can become unable to protect you in the event of an automobile crash.
More rugged, hardcore or everyday riders might consider replacing a helmet after only 3 years or less, due to more exposure to the elements on daily or long-distance rides.
Any DOT-certified helmet should be taken off the shelf after 7 years (and if you come across helmets that are not approved by the DOT or stamped with the production date, they should not be on the shelf in the first place, and you should NEVER buy them).
Maintain this standard for yourself or your riding partners because certain parts of a helmet, such as a shell or liner, can break down over time and provide less protection.
A rule-of-thumb should be to replace your motorcycle helmet every 5-7 years, and every 3 years of heavy use. If your motorcycle helmet has been in any sort of automobile accident or shows signs of damage, replace it at once.
How Do I Know If a Motorcycle Helmet Is TOO Old?
Here is how you can figure out if a motorcycle helmet is too old.
All helmets in production after 1974 must have a visible stamp inside the helmet under the comfort liner, under the DOT FMVSS-218 Standard.
If you find a helmet that seems to be in good condition but doesn’t have the manufacturer’s stamp inside, it is far too old for use.
You should replace all helmets that were made 7 years ago or more because parts of the shell or polystyrene (ESP) lining can degrade over time.
Manufacturers recommend the 7-year rule because ESP and other impact-absorbent materials that make up the inner layers of your helmet can become less effective at protecting your head and you won’t be able to see it.
Next, take some time to look over the motorcycle helmet, inside and out. If your helmet is getting close to the time you should replace it, check the helmets for cosmetic scratches and structural integrity.
It may have been carelessly dropped from handlebars or baked in the sun on a hot seat in a parking lot and needs to be replaced.
Any sign of gouging in the shell or similar ‘road rash’ on an older helmet is a pretty good indicator the helmet has been damaged over time and needs immediate replacing.
Remember, even if you can’t see cosmetic damage, the internal components of an old helmet will have degraded to an unsafe level of protection.
If you ride casually, replace your helmet after 5 years. Yes, even if you’ve taken good care of your helmet. If you are more or less a constant rider, please consider replacing your helmet every 3 years or less.
If you find a cool, old helmet, do not wear it as a piece of PPE-you will be able to find the same style brand new. Any helmet that is older than 7 years should go on the wall next to your vintage Harley signs, not on your head.
What Are Signs That a Bike Helmet Is Too Worn Out?
For starters, you should never, ever consider buying a used bike helmet. Even if it doesn’t look worn out at first glance, it could have damaged components.
And besides, it’s been on somebody’s head in all weather conditions and the liner has absorbed their sweat, oils, hair, etc. These fluids can soak into the protective lining and weaken it, making the helmet less protective, as well as just being kind of gross.
Regarding your helmet-you know better than anyone how worn out it is and you should figure out how effective it would be in a crash. Here’s a list of things you can do to inspect your helmet or your riding partner’s helmet if you have any concerns:
- Keep track of your helmet’s history
- Check your helmet’s manufacturing date semi-regularly
- Inspect the outer shell
- Inspect the impact absorption liner
- Make sure the chin strap is fully functional
- Check helmet regularly for structural integrity
Did you drop your helmet off the counter at a roadside diner or did it fall from shoulder height onto asphalt? Determine at the time if there is any serious damage.
Keep track of how your helmet is exposed to the elements. It’s best to stow a helmet in a safe place out of the sun and other elements to keep it from getting worn out too quickly.
It is important to make a note of when your helmet was manufactured. If you know when it was made, then you know when it has ‘expired.’
If your outer shell or impact absorption liner shows any signs of wear like cracks, missing pieces, weathering, or UV yellowing, it’s ready to exchange your brain bucket for a new, recently manufactured one.
Your chin strap is your lifeline. Make sure it always tightens securely and comfortably.
If any part of your helmet that shouldn’t move or give way to pressure does either of those things, it’s time to replace that helmet ASAP.
Can You Use a Motorcycle Helmet That Has Been in a Crash?
Simply put, you should always replace any motorcycle helmet that has been in a crash.
It’s the Golden Rule of motorcycle helmet ownership, and it could save your life down the road.
Even if you suspect otherwise, the protective lining could be compromised and make the helmet useless in the future. Meaning that your head, and not the absorption element, will take the full force of impact.
Why Do Motorcycle Helmets Have Expiration Dates?
The motorcycle helmet manufacturer’s stamp inside the helmet will let you know when it was made. Now you know when to retire an old helmet and that information will keep you safe on the road. You can be the judge of when to change out the helmet, depending on how much you ride and in what kind of elements. Remember, a helmet will ‘expire’ in:
- 7 years, even if the box has never been opened or taken out of the garage
- 5 years if you ride casually and store your helmet carefully
- 3 or fewer years if you are a full-time rider
Even if a head injury is not life-threatening, it can seriously reduce the quality of life. A safe helmet, which means an unexpired helmet, will ensure that you will feel safe and comfortable when you ride.