As a rule of thumb, a motorcycle helmet should be good for at least five years or more, providing you look after it. Many people and obviously companies within the industry recommend that you replace your helmet when it gets to the five-year-old mark.

So, how and who came up with the five-year timeline?

The “Five Year Rule” (Explained)

The Snell Foundation is a leading non-profit research institution based in the USA. They have been testing and developing helmet safety standards since 1957.

Snell has a helmet safety program that manufacturers can participate in and receive certification for their helmets. The certification program consists of a number of rigorous tests and if the submitted helmet passes, it will receive the Snell seal of approval. An example of the seal can be seen below.

An extract from Snell’s own website gives you an explanation of how the rule of replacing your helmet every five years came about:

“Unused helmets stored in good condition do not automatically expire after five years. Replacing helmets every five years is a judgment call based on testing helmets used by the California Highway Patrol by Dr. George Snively. Wear and tear, the simple act of putting on and taking off helmets, damage the comfort pads and energy-absorbing foam liner over time. Helmets with worn-out pads are at least one to two sizes larger than helmets in new condition. A poorly fitted helmet makes it more likely that the helmet will shift too much or even come off the head during a crash impact. For these reasons, Snell recommends replacing the helmet after five years of normal use.”

Many helmet manufactures will warranty their helmets for 5 years from the date of purchase and 7 years from the date of manufacture, whichever comes first.

Top Tip: Some motorcycle clubs or tracks will not let you use a helmet that is over 5yrs old.

The bottom line, in my opinion, it’s a judgment call by the individual rider.
If one of my helmets has not been in an accident and sustained an impact and it is still in great condition, fits well, then I keep on using the helmet. Of course, you also need to apply some common sense. If the helmet is 30 years old, then maybe it’s time for a change!

When do you need to replace your helmet?

By all means, change your helmet at the five-year mark if that’s your preference, its great for the helmet manufacturers, keeps you within the warranty period for many manufactures, and seriously, who doesn’t like a nice new shiny helmet.

You should also change your helmet in my opinion if any of the following conditions exist:

  • The helmet has been in an accident and received some type of heavy impact.
  • The helmet padding has become loose and the helmet no longer fits as it once did. (This is from normal foam/material breakdown due to heavy use. )
    Many helmet manufacturers sell internal linings, so if your padding does become a little tired, you should be able to replace it.
  • The helmet has obvious signs of wear and tear.
  • The strap or lock features are no longer functional on the helmet.
  • The internal Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) lining of the helmet has cracks.

While you might find that replacing your helmet is expensive, it really is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from knowing your head is protected. We all know, some heads are worth protecting more than others 🙂

So, this leads me to the next question…

Do motorcycle helmets really expire?

According to helmet manufacturers, motorcycle helmets will expire within three to seven years from the date of production. I was unable to find a clear answer on what dictates the timeline, but I’m guessing it is due to material deterioration over time, storage conditions, etc. Also, I would like to think they factor in some wiggle room.
e.g. The max load capacity of a 10 TON bridge is normally more than 10 TON.

I did find a 2016 study on bicycle helmets in regard to material deterioration over time.
Basically, they concluded mechanical stress and UV exposure, had no effects on age up to 26 years.

Helmet expiration date stickers (Example)

All helmets from reputable companies SHOULD have some indication on the helmet showing the date of production.

The photos below show the Shoei production stickers in two of my helmets (Neotec and ADV Hornet). As you can see, one has the production date clearly shown, the other has no date. The one with no date is a newer edition/model Shoei Hornet ADV helmet I purchased new in 2020, so it should be ok?

What about the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) lining?

That is a good question, I’m glad I asked myself 🙂

This is one of the main parts of the helmet that protects you. The EPS lining compresses on impact, reducing the impact being transmitted to your skull.

Apparently, the EPS lining naturally deteriorates and hardens by 4-5% annually. Constant use, chemicals, solvents, your mom’s hair spray can accelerate this deterioration. So if we take 5% and times it by 5 we get 25%. That’s how much the EPS lining could deteriorate over a 5 year period.

Now for some good news…

EPS linings are normally white but usually painted black so that you can see any hairline cracks or damage due to shrinkage or deterioration of the EPS lining. Below is a photo showing the EPS lining from my newish Shoei Hornet ADV (left) and Shoei Neotec (right). Both look in good shape, despite the Neotec being manufacture in 2012 (8yrs ago at the time of this article).

It’s a good idea to periodically check the EPS lining for any issues.

Should I replace my helmet if I drop it?

I’ll be honest, I have dropped helmets before, I think many riders have. I would like to think an expensive brand helmet is not made of eggshells and should be able to sustain a low impact drop from waist height.

That said…

Hairline cracks can happen due to small impacts and unless you have an x-ray machine you are not going to see it. If you have dropped your helmet and want peace of mind, best to get it checked out by the store/manufacturer.

What do you do with an expired motorcycle helmet?

If your helmet has truly served its time and you want to get rid of it, here is a list of ideas:

  • Donate it
    Ambulance, police and fire services are always on the look out for helmets to be used in their training cources. Give them a call and see if they are taking donations, plus its a feel good thing.
  • Trade it in
    Not all, but some helmet or motorcycle accessory shops will trade in old helmets against a nice new shiny one, especially those they have a healthy margin price wise. It never hurts to ask 😉
  • Decoration
    Hang it off the wall or use it as a lamp in the man cave. Paint the brain bucket and put some flowers in it. Cut it in half and stick them on the wall. The options are endless, it’s just down to your imagination.
  • Helmet art
    Plenty of bikers like to spray their own helmets, giving them a unique design. What better way to practice than paint one you no longer need.

So… Should I change my helmet if it’s over 5yrs old?

One thing is for sure, the mass of information out there can all be a little confusing and contradictory so very hard to come up with a definitive answer.

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal responsibility, your risk tolerance, and individual choice. It’s your head and brain bucket, what’s it worth?