When Should I Replace My Helmet?
When should I replace my helmet? This is by far the most common question we get asked.
We don’t need to tell you that your helmet or riding hat is one of the most important pieces of your personal protective equipment.
However, it’s a consumable item, which means eventually it will no longer perform to the standard it was designed for.
How long does a helmet remain fit for purpose?
The fact is there’s no straight forward answer. Each helmet is subject to many different factors as soon as it leaves the factory, which is why helmet / hat producers publish a recommended service life. Depending on the producer, this can be anything between 3 to 7 years – from the date of manufacture.
As bikers, we don’t find this particularly helpful, especially when a replacement helmet is not an insignificant cost.
Most helmet producers will have the date of manufacture printed somewhere on the helmet. This may be under the inner padding or on the chin strap.
If you’re ever in the unfortunate position where you need to call upon your helmet to do its job, you’ll probably want to be assured that it’s going to do its best to protect you.
With this in mind, we’ve listed some of the key areas that can affect the safety performance of your helmet, and the checks you can do to prolong the life of your helmet AND, perhaps more importantly, recognise when it’s time to replace your helmet:
What are the factors that affect the ageing process?
- Straps can become frayed
- Inner padding wear
- The inner liner (EPS) can deteriorate
- The outer shell can harbour invisible damage
It stands to reason that if you are involved in any form of incident / accident, you’re going to want your helmet to remain on your head, right? Yet straps and fixing mechanisms can often be missed from a regular visual inspection, so it’s worth getting into the habit of inspecting your lid when it’s not in use.
The fixing points for the chin strap can also affect the structural integrity of the outer shell, where the rivets used to join the strap to the helmet can, under certain circumstances, start to break up the shell around the rivets.
Depending on the producer, when you purchase a new helmet you may have the option of fitting different sizes of internal padding, e.g. cheek pads. However, these should not be your primary method for making a loose fitting helmet fit your head better. That’s the job of the helmet shell size. That said, worn out padding can make your helmet become looser over time – so internal padding is more than just a comfort feature.
It only takes a few seconds to carry out a visual inspection of the inner padding, and, should they need replacing, most manufacturers will sell you a replacement kit for a relatively low price.
Semi-regular washing will prolong the life and comfort of the pads, which can be removed from most helmets. We recommend a hand wash using a soft detergent, such as baby bath.
Most helmet producers state that machine washing is okay. If you decide to machine wash, we suggest placing the pads into a string bag, or the bag your helmet came with, and wash at a low temperature (30deg) with a low spin cycle. Then air dry. Never tumble dry.
THE EPS LINER
The next layer of protection offered by your helmet is the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner. Sometimes referred to as the foam liner.
EPS can become compressed over time, which will lead to a looser fitment, so a frequent visual inspection is highly recommended.
Many helmet producers now apply a coloured coating to the visible side of the EPS. The coating is usually a dark colour. The purpose of this dark coating is to provide the owner with an indicator of when the EPS has become damaged.
Remove the inner comfort padding and check the inside of the EPS. Should you see any white speckles, this is a signal that the integrity of the EPS has been compromised.
There are only a very small number of helmet producers that we know of who provide customers with a refurbishment programme. If you own a helmet from one of these producers, it’s time to get the EPS replaced.
If your helmet producer doesn’t offer a refurbishment programme, you should retire the helmet immediately.
THE OUTER SHELL
The outer shell is your first line of defence.
In many premium range helmets, the material of choice is a tough composite, either glass reinforced plastic (GRP) or carbon fibre.
Composites are incredibly strong and light, which means they’re an excellent choice of material for use in the construction of a crash helmet. The lighter the helmet the less fatigue a rider will experience.
Yet, for all of its strength, composites are a brittle material. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s this brittleness that helps dissapate shock energy across a large surface area during an impact.
The downside, however, is that composite materials are not self-healing. When subjected to a load, whether that’s a drop – or if it’s thrown into the boot of the car – or subjected to undue loads, damage can and often occurs. This damage not only spreads much further than the initial point of impact, but it also takes place on the opposite side of the point of impact. The side you never see.
As an illustration, if you were to take a wooden branch and apply pressure to it until you start to hear it crack, then release the pressure, the branch will spring back and look normal. However, you know it’s not going to be able to take that same load again.
The branch’s structural integrity has been compromised.
Composite materials in a helmet fail in the same way the branch has failed, and damage, unless it’s obvious, cannot be detected from a visual inspection.
The image of the branch also shows how the side where the load was applied shows little to no sign of damage. The same applies to a helmet. What may appear to be a perfectly good helmet may in fact be harbouring safety critical damage, and only recently has it been possible to identify if any such damage exists.
Unless the damage to a helmet is obvious from a visual, we recommend getting a shell integrity test carried out annually, to assure yourself there’s no damage lurking beneath the surface. Think of it as an annual MOT for the most safety-critical part of your PPE.
When should I replace my helmet?
This isn’t something that we can speculate on.
If you’d like to find out if your helmet is structurally fit for purpose, The Helmet Inspection Company offer the world’s first and only commercially available shell integrity test for crash helmets / riding hats.
Click here to find out more.