The most essential part of your riding gear does not last forever.

Though the motorcycle helmet doesn't necessary wear out, per se, like clothing, nor does it have a "best by" date. Eventually it needs replacing even if it looks fresh off the shelf, fits perfect and you still like it.

Hopefully, your motorcycle helmet only gets some scratches and minor denting from road debris and maybe slippery fingers when carried, but understand, one day, you need to part ways with old faithful that fits just right and has logged thousands if not tens of thousands of miles with you.

How Long Does a Motorcycle Helmet Last?

How long a motorcycle helmet lasts depends in part on how well you take care of it. Carrying it haphazardly leads to drops and a fall from significant height, well, you may have just lost yourself a helmet. And, please, don't buy into the superstition of purposely dropping your new helmet in order to "break in" or bring good luck, implying that a minor accident or drop when the helmet is new can somehow protect you from a future crash. It's dumb.

Generally, carbon fiber or polycarbonate make up the helmet's outer shell each with distinct protective features. The more expensive carbon fiber weighs less, provides impact protection and weathers the elements better. Less expensive polycarbonate weighs a little more but offers better energy absorption than carbon fiber further reducing the inner forces before the shock-absorbing liner takes over. Polycarbonate helmets breakdown quicker than carbon fiber when exposed to sunlight and weather variables.

A moderate drop from a desk, in all likelihood, will not affect the integrity of a helmet. However, a helmet enduring any type of impact that crushes the internal foam or cracks the outer shell needs replacing. In a crash, the EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) Foam or EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) Foam compresses upon impact and absorbs the brunt of the impact instead of your brain. This is a one-time use only type event. Once the foam compresses, thank the helmet for doing its job and buy a new one. Even if you see no visible signs of damage - modern shell structures often pop back into place - replace the helmet or risk wearing a vulnerable lid without adequate protection for another crash.

The outer shell - designed to brace for impact - acts as a protective coating, if you will, so a hard crash might not destroy it, but might very well crack it like an eggshell. Walking away from something like that means the EPS or EPP inner foam did its job but no longer adequately protects once mushed. Time to get a new helmet. Depending on brand, you might get a deal on a new replacement helmet if you send them your banged-up helmet.

A faded helmet does not mean it no longer protects. Lengthy rides, especially in the sun, bleach paint and graphics but that doesn't wane the protection. However, don't think an aesthetically time-resistant lid from 10 years back remains ready to protect. You may have noticed when shopping for a new helmet many manufacturers offer a five-year warranty. Particles, for sure, degrade but more than that the safety technology today surpasses what was implemented in your five-year old helmet.

Do Motorcycle Helmets Have an Expiration Date?

Though not a hard and fast rule, the general consensus of five years also marks your helmet's expiration date.

All sorts of new brain protection technology exist presently that was unheard of five years ago and as manufacturers continue research and development what passes as state-of-the-art today probably can't hold a candle to what a helmet in five years offers. Therefore, replace your helmet every five years regardless of time spent on the saddle to stay ahead of material degradation, wear and tear, and this is important - enjoy advances in helmet technology.

This applies to all helmets whether for riding motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, or UTVs.

Advances in Helmet Technology

Helmet technology continuously evolves with new materials and designs offering better protection. Unheard of 10 years ago, many brands now adopt the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System or MIPS; 6D helmets use their proprietary Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS) System; and others incorporate various energy-absorbing and brain protection technology like the EPS Foam or EPP Foam into innovative shell construction.

With these rapid advancements, wearing a helmet beyond five years means missing out on technology providing superior safety and an improved riding experience.

Helmet Degradation

Father time remains undefeated even for all the materials that go into the helmet manufacturing process. The shock-absorbing EPS or EPP Foam gets exposed to heat, cold and all your sweat. The glue that bonds things together also deteriorates compromising the helmet's integrity. The chin-strap frays or doesn't buckle tight. You don't need to keep an eye on these signs, just an acceptance that to ride safely you probably should get a new helmet once the first signs of wear and tear rears its ugly head, upon your head.

Rider's Tip: A balaclava or other riding headwear warn over your head absorbs sweat minimizing the moisture that breaks down the inner liner and other helmet components.

Helmet Wear and Tear

Regular use leads to wear and tear. Scratches or dents on the outer shell might indicate deeper damage you cannot see thus internal safeguards may or may not be compromised, so better safe than sorry. Also, the inner comfort liner (which fits around your head) and other padding compresses, and maybe you gain weight or lose weight, so all of this affects the helmet's fit making it less effective. A helmet should fit snug and not move around on your head. If you can fit a finger in between your head and the helmet, get a smaller size.

Removable comfort liners and cheek pads need washing which, just like any article of clothing, wears it out. A new set of either or both helps restore your helmet to the original fit once enjoyed and delays the purchase of a new lid as long as the other safety features remain intact. Lastly, scratched or cracked shields or those with a blurry haze need replacing. Expect to replace the visor on a dirt bike helmet multiple times. Whatever helmet style you wear, replace minor helmet parts as needed.

Regularly inspect your helmet for signs of aging. The more you expose a helmet to the rigors of the road the quicker it degrades or succumbs to wear and tear. Don't stick to the five-year rule if you see cracks in the shell, frayed straps, or a compromised helmet structure. If the helmet doesn't fit anymore or becomes uncomfortable, get a new helmet.

How To Extend the Life of a Motorcycle Helmet

When not in use, store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Clean regularly but avoid using harsh chemicals. Don't leave in an area where pets, kids or anyone else may accidentally push off a shelf, table or other place of height. Use a helmet bag for storage and find a dedicated closet area to house your motorcycle gear.

Don't compromise your safety. Every five years, invest in a modern DOT-approved helmet that fits comfortably and doesn't hinder your riding enjoyment.

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