A well-manufactured motorcycle helmet that fits snugly on your head is a must for every rider’s safety gear kit. In fact, many states now have helmet laws that require you to wear a brain bucket anytime you are on a motorcycle.
A motorcycle helmet is the first, and often the only, line of defense between your noggin and a rough encounter with the pavement.
Although the helmet is a good protective layer that prevents skull fracture and abrasion wounds, it’s primary function is to prevent serious brain injury.
Helmets do age and will need to be replaced periodically, so it’s a good idea to know a few signals that your motorcycle helmet is too old.
How Does a Helmet Protect You?
Manufacturers have perfected the materials that make up the protective layers of a motorcycle helmet, but new helmet technology is still being developed.
Every safety helmet must be DOT approved. This means that the helmet meets requirements set by the Department of Transportation to be an effective method of head injury prevention.
For a motorcycle helmet to be DOT certified, it must be effective at absorbing the force of a moderate crash.
The certification test is done in-house by scientists who apply a force that is 250 times the force of gravity. This seems like quite a bit, but remember-this is only the force of a moderate crash.
A vast majority of motorcycle helmets have the obvious outer shell which is made from plastic, Kevlar, or fiberglass.
Between the shell and the hard inner liner of the helmet is a shock absorption material made of expanded polypropylene (EPP) or expanded polystyrene (EPS).
Inside the hard inner liner of the helmet is the removable padding, which not only makes the helmet more comfortable but keeps the helmet snug around your head.
Some helmets also include a polycarbonate plastic face shield which protects your exposed face and chin.
Last, the helmet must have a chinstrap, often made of webbing material, that secures the helmet firmly to your head. In the event of an impact, the chinstrap keeps your helmet from flying off.
1. Signs of Wear and Fading
Excessive scratching from years of use, shell or face shield discoloration, and worn, fraying straps are several signals that your motorcycle helmet is too old.
The outer shell of your helmet keeps any sharp objects from entering the helmet or your head.
Over time, it’s inevitable that your motorcycle helmet is going to get scratched up.
When enough minor scraping and flying debris-related pocks and scratches have damaged the outer shell of the helmet, it weakens the integrity of the plastic, Kevlar, or fiberglass.
The same can be said for the face shield. The difference is that the pitting and scratching on a face shield can limit the rider’s visibility and pose a greater risk to the said rider and other motorists.
Finally, any fraying or wearing on the chinstrap material is a pretty good indicator that your motorcycle helmet is too old.
If the button, D-rings, or any quick release element that tightens and holds the webbed strap become loose or breaks altogether, you should immediately replace your helmet.
2. Past Manufacturer’s Production Date
Helmet manufacturers are not only required to have the DOT approval for production, but must print the date of manufacture on the helmet.
This date can be found printed or stamped somewhere on the hard inner lining or outer shell of the helmet. Check this date to make sure the following rules apply to replacing your helmet:
7 Years Tops
A helmet that has sat on the shelf of a store, or stored in your garage, unpackaged, will still go bad after 7 years. Sort of like the grocery expiration date on perishable goods.
All the materials that go into the production of helmets have a maximum shelf life of 7 years.
5 Years of Good Use
If you take good care of your helmet (as you should with all your safety gear) you should feel comfortable getting 5 years of use out of it.
In fact, we’ve never heard of a helmet manufacturer extending a warranty beyond 5 years.
This is because any minor impact, jostling, or carriage of a helmet causes minute damage to the integrity of the safety materials that comprise the structure of the helmet.
Yes, even if you only take your helmet out of the soft cloth bag for riding and then return it right after, you’ll still want to replace any well-treated helmet after 5 years.
3 Years’ Use for My Roughriders and Offroaders
Lots of 2-wheel and 4-wheel enthusiasts use motorcycle helmets as well. There are lots of styles of helmets available and some of them are geared towards dirtbike riders, offroaders, and quad riders as well.
Because these styles of riding happen out in the elements of nature, you should probably replace your helmet every 3 years.
Anytime you’re shredding hard out on a track, a course, or charting your way through the forest to hunt or camp, you are doing a bit more damage to the structural integrity of your helmet.
The rest of us road warriors might save a little money by having to replace our pristine helmets less frequently, but offroaders never know when their helmet might save them from a low-hanging branch or a rock during a wipeout.
3. Your Face Shield Has Too Much Permanent Scratching
Not all motorcycle helmets have face shields, but a lot of ¾- and full-face helmets do.
The face shield of the helmet bears the full-frontal assault of wind, grit, dirt, and anything that gets kicked up off the road by vehicles in front of you.
So these face shields not only protect us in the event of impact but make life more comfortable and keep those painful things off of our faces (not to mention the bugs)!
If your face shield sustains enough pitting and scratching, it won’t be protective anymore because it poses a visibility hazard.
I know this doesn’t indicate that the whole helmet is too old and worn for use anymore, but if the shield is permanently affixed to the helmet, you’ll have to replace the whole thing.
Fortunately, most modern helmets come with removable face shields and replacements can be bought for a fraction of the cost of a whole helmet!
4. Oh Boy, You Dropped Your Helmet
“But I only dropped it once!” Famous words to live by.
I’m not going to say we’ve all done it-but we’ve all done it. Because every helmet has a limit for shock absorption, dropping it from the handlebars or the sissy bar of your bike can seriously damage it.
The reason it is so important to take good, nay, meticulous care of your helmet is that damage impacts the part we can’t see.
Your helmet might look like it’s just fine, but the expanded polystyrene or polyethylene lining can become damaged without us even knowing it.
5. Dried Out Protective Foam
The expanded polystyrene or polyethylene foams that absorb the shock during any impact or wipeout aren’t static forms. They are lightweight materials that change over time and can be negatively affected by dry climate, moisture, fluctuating temperatures, heat, and cold.
If the protective foam layer located between the outer and inner shell dries out, it loses all absorptive qualities and renders it useless.
6. Helmet No Longer Fits Properly
Have you noticed that your helmet has become loose, and no longer fits properly? It is possible that time, fluctuating temperatures, or moisture levels have degraded the inner foam layers and hard inner shell.
When shock absorptive or hard foams dry or warps, they can lose mass. When this mass is lost, minor shrinkage can occur and your helmet won’t fit as snugly on your head.
This can be very dangerous because the helmet is designed specifically to prevent brain injury.
If your head is rattling around like a Russian nesting doll in your helmet, it’s time to replace it.
If you are sure your removable cushioning pads are the problem, consider removing and replacing them.
7. Malfunctioning Strap
I know from first-hand experience how important the strap is to the function of the helmet.
Years ago, a friend and experienced rider had a strap malfunction during a crash. Their head was protected during the first impact, but a missing strap allowed the helmet to fly off during the rebound impact.
Unfortunately, this friend succumbed to a traumatic brain injury. If you think I’m trying to scare you-I am. Always make sure you have a functioning strap because it could mean the difference between life and death.
If your strap or strapping mechanism has become damaged in any way, it is a sign that the helmet has passed the point of function and must be replaced with a new one.