Motorcycles are a fun and adventurous way to get around. But as riders, we should also be aware that we face a higher risk of fatal injuries.
As per data from 2020, motorcycles make up only 3% of all registered vehicles in the U.S. But motorcyclists accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities. So, how can we stay safe?
According to the CDC, good-quality helmets are the most effective ways to stay safe and avoid head injury.
Like most things in life, even motorcycle helmets go through wear and tear. Motorcycle helmets are good for about 5 to 7 years, after which they must be replaced. But the duration can slightly vary, depending on different factors, such as frequent use or accidents.
Do motorcycle helmets expire?
Helmets are a crucial part of motorcycle protective gear. But sadly, we tend to neglect or replace them. Wear and tear happen to all living and non-living things, and your helmet is no exception.
Helmet manufacturers recommend you replace a helmet every 5 to 7 years from its date of manufacture. The rule of thumb is as follows:
- 7 years, even if the helmet has never been worn
- 5 years if you ride casually and store your helmet carefully
- After 3 or fewer years of use, if you are a full-time rider
But the expiration date can vary, depending on helmet use, accidents, and the make and model of the helmet.
As a general rule, shops should not sell any DOT-approved helmets which are 7 years old.
And if they are not per DOT standards, then buyers should avoid them altogether. And it would help if you did not buy used helmets.
How to check the expiration date of a motorcycle helmet
All helmets made after 1974 have a production date stamp on them, according to the DOT FMVSS-218 Standard. And the manufacturer will inform you as to how long they will last. But if your helmet doesn’t have a stamp, it’s well past its expiration date.
The production date is usually stamped onto the inside of the helmet. Flip your helmet over and take a look at the inside. You will find a tag on one of the chin straps or under the padding near your ears. This should have the date of manufacture.
While the expiry date will not be given, you can calculate that from the production date. That will provide you with the lifespan of a motorcycle helmet.
Why is it essential to replace your old helmet?
While your old helmet might look fine on the surface, the various components that make up a helmet can start to degrade. This is especially true for the EPS foam (expanded polystyrene). You will find this under the outer carbon kevlar or plastic shell and over the plush liner.
If you are in an accident, the EPS liner is the part of the helmet that absorbs the impact of your fall. And it can get damaged, losing its effectiveness. Additionally, over time, weather conditions, heat, sweat, and other factors will damage it too.
Note: if you are ever in an accident and your helmet absorbs a shock, it’s best to replace the helmet. For the same matter, dropping the helmet off and on due to negligence or poor housekeeping can cumulatively amount to the helmet absorbing a crash impact.
Other parts that can also degrade over time include the comfort liner, chin strap, and inner liner. Different components of the helmet will degrade at different speeds. Even the glue holding all the layers together can be affected by hair oils, chemicals, cosmetics, and bodily fluids.
The outer shell of the helmet can also degrade and wear down. This is most often due to prolonged UV exposure, which makes them brittle and ineffective.
All these parts should be in good condition for your helmet to be at its most effective. So, it’s important to replace your helmet after a long time.
Replacing helmet parts instead of buying a new one
Some motorcyclists think that if you can replace the parts above, then you can replace the helmet partially. They also feel that the notion of helmet replacement every 5 years or so is without any good reason.
For example, you can buy replacement chin straps if they get too frayed. The same goes for comfort liners. Some studies also say that the EPS lining does not degrade with age. So, there is no need to replace it unless you were in an accident.
The Snell Foundation also says that the materials used in the manufacture of the helmet should be of durable quality. They should not be harmed by exposure to sun, rain, dust, vibration, sweat, or products applied to the skin or hair. This means that we should not have to replace helmets often.
The Snell Memorial Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that focuses on research, education, and development of motorcycle helmet safety standards.
If you feel that replacing parts can work just as well as a new helmet, then you can do that. It depends on you and your level of comfort. But never at the cost of your safety.
I believe helmets must be replaced with time. I would budget and fork out the necessary $$$ for 100% protection and peace of mind. I wouldn’t take a chance.
Signs a motorcycle helmet is too old and needs to be replaced?
Age of the helmet
Keep track of your helmet’s manufacture date. It would be best if you replaced all helmets that were made 7 years ago or more. Manufacturers recommend the 7-year rule because the helmet’s ESP foam can become less effective at shock absorption.
Structure of the helmet
Inspect your old helmet closely. If you see signs of helmet degradation, it may be time to replace it. Check the helmet’s integrity, especially if you accidentally dropped it. If you see signs of cracks, missing pieces, weathering, or UV yellowing, it’s time to replace it.
If you were in a motorcycle crash
If you have been in a motorcycle crash, you should always replace any motorcycle helmet you were wearing. This is the golden rule of motorcycle helmet ownership.
Your helmet’s EPS foam liner is good for one impact only. This is because once the foam has been depressed or squashed, it cannot bounce back into shape again. So, if you are in another accident later, it will not have any ability to absorb the impact.
Popular helmet manufacturers and their general expiry periods for helmets
Here is a list of popular helmet manufacturers’ expiry periods for helmets. You can check the list to see if it’s time to replace your helmet. The expiry date can also depend on the exact model of your helmet.
- AGV: 7 years
- Arai: 7 years
- Schuberth: 5-7 years
- Alpinestars: 5 years
- Shoei: 5 years
- Fox: 5 years
- Fly: 5 years
- Klim: 5 years
- Icon: 3-5 years
- HJC: 3-5 years
- Bell: 3 years
Here are some of the best helmets picked by the RZ Team!
Tips to take good care of your helmet
- Keep it covered and stored in a dry place and out of direct sunlight.
- Please don’t keep your keys, gloves, or anything else. It is not meant for storing things and can get damaged.
- Inspect it regularly to check if all the parts are working well. For example, the chin straps should not be frayed or too loose.
- If you are replacing parts of the helmet, make sure to know what you are doing. Otherwise, you may damage it even more.
- Clean your helmet regularly. You can also wash the removable parts (like the liner materials).
A good helmet can cost about $300, but the best helmets can be even costlier.
A full-face helmet made of carbon fiber would make a perfect example!
The question is: is your life worth it to invest as much in protection?
Yes. It is. And more.
So take good care of your helmet. Please treat it with care and ride with confidence that you are well protected. When it’s time to replace it, be prompt and do the needful.
A past serving life helmet cannot adequately protect you, and you must replace it!
Additionally, as helmet technology keeps evolving, you can look forward to new features in a high-quality helmet that will enhance your ride. That’s always fun!