Do motorcycle helmets expire if not used? No, motorcycle helmets do not expire if they are not used. There are many recommendations as to when to replace a motorcycle helmet and all are arbitrary and based on making conservative safety recommendations or from the marketing departments of companies selling or manufacturing helmets.
I have seen many blog articles on the internet stating that a motorcycle helmet should be replaced every 5 years or 7 years even if it was never used. There is no factual basis for this statement. There are so many varied materials and manufacturers of helmets and an unlimited number of environmental conditions that it is not possible to make an accurate generalized statement like this.
Purely from a safety standpoint as well as comfort and hygiene you should replace your helmet every few years if it’s used a lot. Few helmets have removable washable liners and it’s not so easy to clean a standard motorcycle helmet and it’s easier just to get a new one every few years if you’re using it a lot especially if you tend to sweat or use it in an area where the air is not so clean, and the helmet get dirty more easily.
But these are all subjective opinions and not based on any hardcore scientific data. It’s like deciding when you should change your underclothes. It’s really something that each individual must decide on their own.
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Do Motorcycle Helmets Expire If Not Used? 6 Factors Affecting the Lifespan of a Motorcycle Helmet
Based on my experience of more than 50 years as a rider, in addition to leading and consulting for several reputable helmet manufacturers, these are the six main factors I have observed contributing to the lifespan of a motorcycle helmet:
1. Impact of Usage Frequency
One of the main factors is the amount of use the helmet gets in simple terms. It’s like an hour meter on a piece of equipment how many hours the helmet has been used. This is one of the most significant things that will affect how long a helmet will last.
2. Personal Chemistry Effects
Another important factor which is rarely mentioned is the personal chemistry of the rider. I have seen helmets we’re not only the comfort padding but the vinyl covering on the straps was totally deteriorated in less than 2 years use because of the chemical reaction of the owners sweat with materials used in the manufacturer of a specific model helmet.
This is something that’s impossible to know in advance and only affects a small number of people. One would have to know this from their own personal experience.
3. Environmental Influences
Heat and/or Humidity won’t affect the shell or EPS liner of a helmet, but it can have an effect on the comfort padding, glue, graphics, trim, and any rivets or other metal components of the helmet including the buckles. A helmet that is exposed to a lot of humidity will probably have a much shorter lifespan than a helmet that is kept in a dry environment. Humidity could influence the lifespan of a helmet that has never been used.
As with everything in life there’s always exceptions to the rule and it is possible that a motorcycle helmet could expire if not used if it was exposed to a lot of heat and or humidity over the years.
4. Chemical Exposure Risks
It is unlikely that any chemicals will have any detrimental effect against a composite shell of a modern motorcycle helmet. That would include shells made of fiberglass or various mixtures of other fibers like Kevlar and carbon fiber. However, helmets manufactured in thermoplastic shells whether it’s polycarbonate or ABS can be affected by many chemicals including gasoline which is the chemical most likely to come in contact with a motorcycle helmet.
As with heat and humidity this could create another exception to the rule for a helmet never used. If a motorcycle helmet was exposed to certain chemicals, especially solvents like gasoline, even if it was never used it could be degraded and therefore could be considered that it had expired. This would be an unusual situation but not impossible which is why the general answer to the question do motorcycle helmets expire if not used is almost always no they don’t.
5. Sunlight and UV Concerns
Extreme cold and extreme heat will probably cause damage to the comfort pad and the glue holding it together. This is also true for the trim. Cold temperatures will not degrade the shell of a composite helmet or the EPS liner. It’s unlikely that any motorcycle helmet would be exposed to temperatures low enough to degrade the shell of a thermoplastic helmet.
A general rule of thumb is to always keep your helmet someplace where you or your clothes would be. In other words, within a reasonable temperature range not outside in the rain or snow and certainly not in the fog of some chemical mist. If your helmet is in an environment that is comfortable for a human being it will be fine.
I noted that many articles say that sunlight will damage the outer shell of the helmet due to harmful UV rays as well as other elements like rain and that this could seriously shorten the life of the helmet. First, unless your helmet is made of paper mache and has no paint and clear coat on its rain should not have any ability to seriously shorten the life of your helmet!
If your helmet has a composite shell, it is not going to be affected by sunlight, maybe the paint will fade, or the graphics will fade but the structural strength and integrity of the helmet shell will not be affected by the sunlight from you riding your motorcycle.
Theoretically, the shell of a thermoplastic helmet, like those made of polycarbonate and ABS, could be affected by sunlight. However, most modern thermoplastic helmets are painted and have graphics on, and I doubt in a real-world application that in any period of realistic use the helmet shell would actually be damaged by sunlight just from riding your motorcycle.
Now, if you were in the habit of taking your helmet off and leaving it outside, for instance, on the mirror of your motorcycle day after day month after month, I could see where that could be a problem with a thermoplastic helmet.
Another reason to care for your helmet is like you care for any of your clothing or personal possessions, you wouldn’t leave them laying around outside, keep them indoors and all will be fine. In theory if you had a brand-new motorcycle helmet that was never used, and it had a thermoplastic shell but was left out of the box and in direct sunlight over a long period of time it could sustain damage.
But this is such an unusual circumstance, and it would be misleading to say that a motorcycle helmet expires if never used because of this very unlikely situation.
6. Advancements in Helmet Technology
The biggest reason why you might not want to use a helmet that is many years old even if it has never been used is because in all those years, helmet technology has gotten better. You might have a brand-new helmet in a box that might be perfectly safe, but the similar model today is lighter, has better ventilation, a much better face shield mechanism, a better retention system, more up-to-date styling, and the paint and graphics are probably Superior.
Michael’s Summary and Conclusion
So, it really depends on your use; if you had a brand-new off-road helmet in a box and you hadn’t used it in many years, and you just got a dirt bike on ATV to ride around locally then probably that would not justify buying a new helmet. But if you had a nice full-face street helmet laying around for years and decided to really get back into riding, and we’re going to be spending a serious amount of time doing it would probably be a good idea to consider at least looking at what the market now has to offer and how helmets have changed over the years.
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FAQs — I Have The Answers!
Q: Do Motorcycle Helmets Expire If They Are Not Used?
Generally speaking, motorcycle helmets do not expire if never used, but there still may be good reasons just to go ahead and buy a newer model at the end of the day. It’s mostly a personal decision.
Q: How Do I Know If My Helmet Is Expired?
You can know if your helmet is expired by checking for signs such as excessive fading, a cracked shell, compressed EPS liner, detached EPS liner, damaged comfort liner, loose chin straps, base plate issues, damaged base trim, compromised face shield, impaired visor seal, or damaged vent covers.
Q: How Long Does an Unused Helmet Last?
An unused helmet can last for more than 20 years and even longer, preferably if it’s stored in a helmet bag and kept away from sunlight and moisture.
Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative government, educational, and nonprofit organizations: