When Should I Replace My Helmet?
- Did you crash it? Replace immediately.
- Did you drop it hard enough to crack the foam? Replace.
- Is it from the 1970's? Replace.
- Is the outside just foam or cloth instead of plastic? Replace.
- Does it lack a CPSC, ASTM or Snell sticker inside? Replace.
- Can you not adjust it to fit correctly? Replace!!
But you should know that the foam in an uncrashed helmet performs well for many years. Scroll down for an actual lab
test study proving that.
Did you crash in it?
For starters, most people are aware that you must
replace a helmet after any crash
where your head hit. The foam part of a helmet is made for one-time use, and after crushing once it is no longer as
protective as it was, even if it still looks intact. Bear in mind that if the helmet did its job most people would tell
you that they did not even hit their head, or did not hit their head that hard. And the thin shells on most helmets now
tend to hide any dents in the foam. But if you can see marks on the shell or measure any foam crush at all, replace the
helmet. (Helmets made of EPP foam do recover, but there are few EPP helmets on the market. Yours is EPS or EPU unless
You can also crack the helmet foam or damage it by dropping the helmet on a hard surface. The cracks may be small and
hard to see, so you need to look carefully. Cracks in the foam always require replacement of the helmet.
You may be reluctant to replace a helmet that looks almost as good as new, but if you did hit, you don't want to take
chances on where you will hit next time. If the foam is cracked under the thin shell, it will be more likely to fly apart
in your next crash. Many manufacturers will replace crashed helmets for a nominal fee, and most will also inspect crashed
helmets to see if they need replacement. Call them if you are in doubt. For contact info check our list of manufacturers. (You can also ask them if they think the advice on this page is valid!}
Is it from the 70's?
If you still have a helmet from the 70's without a styrofoam liner, replace it immediately.
That would include the Skidlid (with spongy foam), 1970's Pro-tec (spongy foam), Brancale (no foam) and all leather
"hairnets." They just did not have the protection of helmets made after 1984 when the ANSI standard swept the junk off
The better 1970's helmets were reasonably good ones, but were not quite up to current standards. It is probably time
to replace that old Bell Biker, Bailen, MSR, Supergo or similar model from the 70's or early 80's. (We have a page up on
replacing the Bell Biker.) The hard shells were great, but the foam liners were not thick enough
to meet today's ASTM or Snell standard. The Bell V-1 Pro was designed to today's standards, but the foam is very stiff,
and if you are over 65 you probably should replace that too. If you have one of the 1980's all-foam helmets with perhaps
a cloth cover, we would recommend replacing that one. Lab tests showed some years ago that bare foam doesn't skid well on
pavement, and could jerk your neck in a crash. The cloth doesn't help much. In addition, some of them had no internal
reinforcing, and they tend to break up in a crash. That's not serious if you just fall, but if you are hit by a car the
helmet can fly apart in the initial contact and leave you bare-headed for the crack on the pavement.
Is it newer? With what standards sticker inside?
Newer helmets from the late 1980's and the 90's may or may not
need replacement. First look to see what standards sticker is inside. If it's ASTM or Snell, the helmet was designed to
meet today's standards for impact protection, and you may even find that Consumer Reports
tested it in one of their articles
. Most manufacturers now recommend that helmets be replaced after five years, but some
of that may be just marketing. (Bell now recommends every three years, which seems to us too short. They base it
partially on updating your helmet technology, but we would take that with a grain of salt.) Deterioration depends on
usage, care, and abuse. We have seen helmet shells deteriorate from constant exposure to sunlight. So if you ride
thousands of miles every year, five years may be a realistic estimate of helmet life. And helmets have actually been
improving enough over time to make it a reasonable bet that you can find a better one than you did five years ago. It may
fit better, look better, and in some cases may even be more protective. For an alternate view that agrees with the
manufacturers, check out the helmet FAQ of the Snell Foundation
. Snell knows a lot about
helmets and their views on this subject should not be dismissed lightly, even though we disagree with them.
Occasionally somebody spreads rumors that sweat and ultraviolet (UV) exposure will cause your helmet to degrade. Sweat
will not do that. The standards do not permit manufacturers to make a helmet that degrades from sweat, and the EPS, EPP
or EPU foam is remarkably unaffected by salt water. Your helmet will get a terminal case of grunge before it dies of
sweat. Sunlight can affect the strength of the shell material, though. Since helmets spend a lot of time in the sun,
manufacturers usually put UV inhibitors in the plastic for their shells that control UV degradation. If your helmet is
fading or showing small cracks around the vents, the UV inhibitors may be failing, so you probably should replace it.
Chances are it has seen an awful lot of sun to have that happen. Otherwise, try another brand next time and let us know
what brand faded on you.
At least one shop told a customer that the EPS in his three year old helmet was now "dried out." Other sales people
refer to "out gassing" and say that the foam loses gas and impact performance is affected. Still others claim that helmets
lose a percentage of their effectiveness each year, with the percentage growing with age. All of that is nothing but
marketing hype to sell a replacement helmet before you need it. There is some loss of aromatics in the first hours and
days after molding, and helmet designers take account of that for standards testing. But after that the foam stabilizes
and does not change for many years, unless the EPS is placed in an oven for some period of time and baked. The interior
of your car, for example, will not do that, based on helmets we have seen and at least one lab crash test of a helmet
always kept in a car in Virginia over many summers. Helmet shells can be affected by car heat, but not the foam. The
Snell Memorial Foundation has tested motorcycle helmets held in storage for more than 20 years and found that they still
meet the original standard. See the next paragraph for lab testing of bicycle helmets showing the same thing.
Test Lab proof that performance holds up
In 2015 MEA Forensic reported on their extensive testing
of used (but not crashed) bicycle helmets shows that the foam liners retain their performance over many years. Some of
the helmets were as old as 26 years. They crash tested 675 helmets in their lab. Their analysis showed that there was no
significant impact performance change with age. Their data including all 675 helmets tested produced only a 0.7g per year
increase in impact readings at the higher drop height. After crash testing the helmets on a standard test rig, MEA took
core samples from an uncrashed area of 63 helmets and tested them. This generated data based solely on the foam
performance. Again, the findings indicate that helmet liner foam does not deteriorate with age. We have more on this
landmark study in this Update newsletter
Looking for an honest manufacturer
The Italian company MET said in their 2010 catalog that after conducting a
test program they had found that "if used properly accordingly to our owner manual, our helmets will still do their job
up to eight years after they have been made." Unfortunately they now say three to five years. Perhaps their helmets have
We applauded MET at the time for undertaking an actual testing program on helmet life and for making that statement.
We regarded it as a triumph of integrity over marketing. MET's helmets were made with industry standard shells and
liners, so there is no reason we can see that their recommendation should not be good for many other helmet brands as
well. If another manufacturer comes up with a testing program that shows earlier deterioration in the protection from
their products we will revise this page. Most are now telling you that if your helmet does not have MIPS or some
rotational energy technology you should replace it. We have a page up on that.
In sum, we don't find the case for replacing a helmet that meets the ASTM or Snell standards that compelling if the
helmet is still in good shape and fits you well.
Are you using it for non-bicycle activities?
Since 2003 helmets have been available that are actually certified
to skateboard or ski standards as well as the CPSC bicycle helmet standard. If you are using a bicycle helmet for
skateboarding or any other sport where you crash regularly, see our writeup on helmets for the
for more info on that. Otherwise, we would recommend buying another helmet designed for the activity
you are pursuing, whether or not you replace your bike helmet. We have more on that subject on our page on other helmets
. Note that most "skate-style" helmets currently on the market are actually bicycle helmets
certified only to the CPSC bicycle helmet standard. They have CPSC stickers inside, but no ASTM Skateboard standard
Do you still like wearing it?
Your helmet is of course a piece of wearing apparel as well as a safety appliance.
If you consider yourself a stylish rider and your helmet is not as spiffy as the new ones, go for it. There is nothing
wrong with wanting to look good, and if you do, that is a valid reason to replace a helmet.
Is a better helmet available today?
We are emerging from a period when helmet styles had been more "squared-off"
and elongated. Designers added unnecessary ridges and projections that may increase the sliding resistance of a helmet
shell. But starting about 2015, styles began changing and the "compact" road helmet became more fashionable. Now with
more emphasis on concussions and rotational energy, designers are rounding the shells more to reduce any tendency to snag
on impact and jerk your head. So we would look for a rounded, smooth-shelled design if you decide on a new helmet. We
have a lot of info on the new ones up on our page on helmets for the current season
Inspecting a Helmet
We have a page up with step by step instructions on how to inspect a