Out with the old and in with the new. Everything has an expiration date, and that includes your helmet.
In this article, we’ll explain how long you should keep your helmet and how to tell when it’s time to hang it up.
Can a Motorcycle Helmet Get Too Old?
Motorcycle helmets have an expiration date, although they take substantially longer to expire. The expiration date is specific to the EPS (expanded polystyrene) layer of the helmet. Over time, the EPS liner breaks down from wear, exposure, and general aging.
How Can I Tell How Old My Helmet Is?
Helmet manufacturers take safety seriously and have made it easy for their consumers to determine the manufacture date of their helmets.
By removing the comfort liner, you will find a sticker inside the helmet labeled with a month and year, like the one below:
This shows the month and year the helmet was manufactured. You may also find the SNELL certification sticker here as well.
If you just purchased your helmet, make sure the helmet is no older than seven years old. If you find you’ve been wearing your helmet for over 5 years, replace it as soon as you can.
How Long Do Motorcycle Helmets Work 100%?
There are several factors that can affect the effectiveness of your helmet. The fitment, design, materials, and age are just a few to name.
However, the average threshold for a helmet to be effective in a crash is five years. This is assuming the helmet has been kept in pristine condition and never dropped or endured an accident.
Helmet companies even offer warranties for their helmets that vary from one to five years. The warranties are the company’s way of saying “This helmet should hold up for at least x amount of years.”
You will find that premium helmet brands warranty their helmets for five years after the purchase date. After the warranty period or 5 years, manufacturers recommend replacing the helmet.
Can I Check Whether It Has Been in an Accident?
It’s hard to determine whether a helmet has been in an accident. So it is recommended to replace the helmet after it’s been in an accident.
This is also why experts recommend only buying a new helmet and avoiding used ones. It can be risky to continue to use a helmet that’s been through an accident.
However, there is an exception if you own a SHOEI helmet or you live in Australia.
Shoei helmet owners can send their helmet to a Shoei test facility to have a safety inspection performed, free. Their website gives information about where and how to send your recently dropped, or crashed helmet. A few days after receiving the helmet, they will send you a letter with their findings.
As of 2019, The Helmet Doctors (a business based in Australia) have co-developed a laser machine that can look into the helmet and check it for damage you may not be able to see. Though this service from the Helmet Doctors is only available in Australia at this time, this technology could spread stateside in the coming years.
These services are limited, so unless you have a way of scanning your helmet, it is highly recommended to replace your helmet than risk continued use.
What Happens If You Use a Helmet That’s Too Old?
After a certain number of years (about five), the EPS liner of your helmet will break down. The EPS layer can form cracks, soften or feel brittle to the touch. When the EPS is damaged, it can no longer protect your head from high impacts. Of course, these changes don’t happen overnight, but the continued wear of an aging helmet will speed up the breakdown process.
The EPS liner isn’t the only material to break down. The outside shell of the helmet and even the comfort liner can deteriorate as well.
Like in the above picture, the once smooth material on the neckroll is now peeling. The cushion from the comfort liner is brittle and falls apart to the touch. Gross.
How Do I Examine an Old Helmet to Make Sure It Still Works Properly?
Same as checking for damage after an accident, there’s no definitive way to check if a helmet will still work if it’s old. The best thing to do is check for obvious signs that the helmet is too old.
- Check the manufacture date: If the manufacturer sticker says the helmet was made over five years ago, DO NOT use it.
- Look for visible signs of aging: If the inside or side of the helmet looks sun-faded, or brittle, it’s most likely too old to be used.
- Look for visible signs of damage: If there are scratches or chipped paint on the outside of the helmet, it has probably been in an accident.
Pieces that were previously glued on but are now peeling off are signs that the helmet has been damaged, which also compromises the helmet’s effectiveness.
How Can I Keep My Helmet Lasting For 5 Years?
Here are ways to keep your helmet in top condition for five years:
1. Keep Your Helmet Clean
Cleaning your helmet inside and out frequently can help prolong its life. This will keep debris from building up and breaking down the shell of your helmet.
Washing the inside of your helmet also gets rid of oils and dirt from your head that breaks down the EPS liner.
It’s also just nice to put something on your head that doesn’t smell like sweat. There are also special helmet cleaning products on the market to keep your lid fresh, but warm water and gentle soap work well too.
2. Avoid Dropping Or Bumping Your Helmet
Impacts from dropping or bumping take a toll on the protective layers of your helmet. Do your best to keep your helmet safe and you won’t have to worry if your helmet is safe.
A great way to avoid drops is to store your helmet somewhere secure, like a sturdy closet shelf. Helmets are more likely to fall when they’re hung from hooks or on the handlebars of bikes.
3. Don’t Leave Your Helmet in Your Car Or in a Hot Garage
Excessive heat can negatively affect your helmet. It can speed up the aging process of the helmet or warp pieces of the helmet like visor and neck liners. Warranties rarely cover damage from heat. Don’t leave your helmet anywhere you leave your dog.
Understandably, it can be hard to retire a helmet. Sometimes it’s financial reasons that cause us to hold off on replacing a helmet or sentimental ones. If you find yourself in either situation, remember that the helmet’s number one job is to keep you safe (looking cool is second).