If you dug through your grandpa’s garage and found an old helmet from the 1930s, the paint cracked and fading, the chinstrap loose and frayed, would you feel comfortable wearing it?
Most people instinctively know helmets get less safe over the years, but the question is, when exactly is it time to get a new one?
So, Do Motorcycle Helmets Expire?
No, they do not expire, but you should replace your helmet every 3-5 years as a general rule.
Of course, this depends on many factors. For example, if you get in an accident, you should replace your helmet immediately. Knowing when to trade up for a new helmet will keep you safe and increase your helmet’s effectiveness.
Date of Manufacture vs Date of Purchase
Helmets aren’t like bottles of milk. You won’t find any “expiration date” printed on the side. Instead, you’ll find its date of manufacture. This was when it was produced in the factory.
You should only use a helmet for 7 years after its date of manufacture. In other words, if it was stamped as produced on September 1, 2021, you should get a new helmet by September 1, 2028, at the latest.
Of course, you hardly ever buy a helmet the moment it comes off the assembly line. Between being packaged and shipped, plus the amount of time it has to sit on the shelf at your local motorcycle shop, you may end up buying a helmet several years after its manufacture date. This is how we get the 3-5-year rule from the date of purchase.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to note the day you buy the helmet, especially in case there isn’t a visible date of manufacture.
Still, you should check the date of manufacture if you can. Many times, sellers discount old helmets that are approaching their 7-year “expiry date,” so you may get a cheaper helmet but then have to replace it after just a year or two.
Ok, But Why Do I Have to Replace It?
Throw a dart at a motorcycle forum, and you’ll inevitably find someone claiming that the 3-5-year rule is just a marketing scheme. It doesn’t help that there are a lot of myths surrounding helmet degradation.
For example, many claim that the oil from your scalp and evaporating sweat can break down the protective EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam that makes up the inside of the helmet. This simply isn’t true, and EPS foam maintains its protective properties over long periods of time.
However, there are parts of your helmet that do break down. Specifically, body oils and sweat can accelerate the degradation of the glue and adhesives that hold the helmet together. Even if the helmet is just sitting on a shelf, the glue can break down.
Most importantly, the elements can wear down a helmet’s outer shell. Specifically, a combination of rain and sunlight can cause something called “photo-oxidative degradation.”
UV light from the sun causes chemical changes in the plastic of the helmet’s outer shell, which can be further facilitated by rain, much like rusting. This is why your grandpa’s helmet you dug out of the garage was so worn and cracked.
Of course, you’re probably thinking, but a helmet sitting on a store shelf isn’t exposed to rain or UV light, so it’ll last longer, right? This is why you need to know the other factors that affect helmet life.
Factors to Consider
- Frequency of Use: The more you use your helmet, the more often you need to replace it. The vibrations of riding can loosen parts, and the elements degrade the shell of the helmet. As a result, commuters probably want to replace their helmets closer to every three years.
- Exposure to the Elements: Rain and sun break down helmets more than anything else. If you have to commute through extreme weather, consider replacing your helmet more frequently.
- Extreme Climates: Again, this has to do with the elements. If you live in Southern California where the weather is mild and dry year round, you won’t have to replace your helmet as often as a Nebraskan who deals with extreme cold, drenching thunderstorms, and scorchingly humid summers all in the same year.
- Accidents and Damage: When it comes to accidents, helmets are “single use.” If you crash your bike, you absolutely must replace your helmet.
- New Tech on the Market: Helmets get better and safer every year. After a few years, your helmet is, frankly, outdated. Trade up to stay as safe as possible.
A Note on Part Replacement
Replacing your helmet has to do with safety. The concern is the protectiveness of the outer plastic shell and the inner foam shell. However, there is a third layer: the inner cloth liner that touches your head.
Modern helmets can have liners that are quite complicated and include cushioning and sweat-wicking. While the liner might wear down very fast due to sweat and oil build-up, friction, etc., you can often replace the liner without having to replace the helmet altogether.
This may also apply to other parts like the visor and chinstrap, so check with the manufacturer to see if there are replacement parts.
Stay Safe and Up to Date
So now you know. You should replace your helmet 3-5 years after you buy it.
If you use it regularly as many commuters do, you should probably lean towards every three years.
If you have an accident, you must replace your helmet no matter how much time has passed. This way, you can be sure the materials in your helmet will still keep you safe in a crash.