How do you know when it’s time to replace your helmet?

303 Endurance | How do you know when it's time to replace your helmet?

By: A.V. Schmit

Well, there is one obvious reason why you should replace your helmet — A crash. No matter the severity, a crash indicates a mandatory helmet replacement. It makes sense, when you consider all bike helmets are single-use pieces of safety equipment.

303 Endurance | A compressed foam liner

A compressed foam impact-absorption area can often be invisible from the outside. Photo: Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

They are not designed, nor intended to absorb the energy from multiple impacts. Even in what appears to be a minor impact, the integrity of the internal structures within the helmet may be compromised and be unable to perform when called upon in a supplemental impact.

But there is good news, well, kind of. Many helmet manufacturers offer a discount to replace a crash-damaged helmet. Giro offers a 30% discount as a crash-replacement incentive. To access the discount, you can call their 1-800 number or use an online form on their website.

Other circumstances, like accidentally leaving your helmet in an excessively hot car or truck, cause not so obvious reasons to replace your helmet. Extremely high temperatures, such as those experienced in the southern United States in the summer months, can create temperatures that can damage the impact absorbing foam that make up many modern road and mountain bike helmets.


“Excessive heat can damage your helmet. For example, in direct sunlight a dark gear bag, the interior of a car, or an automobile trunk can get hot enough to cause heat damage (damaged helmets will appear to have uneven or bubbly surfaces).”

Bell Helmets FAQ

303 Endurance | Is it time to replace your helmet?

Car temperature chart. Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco State University.

Excessive heat, exposure to caustic chemicals, and impacts both on and off the bike, are all circumstances that can necessitate replacing your bike helmet.

So, you have not crashed your helmet or let it cook in a hot car, how do you know if you should replace it?

“We encourage riders to replace their helmet at least every 3 to 5 years,” said Tara L. Giro Consumer Services Representative. “At Giro, our focus is safety. With the advances in safety technology, we feel that is an appropriate range for the usable life of a helmet, barring a crash.”

UV, Ultra Violet, light can degrade a helmet’s polycarbonate shell, but this takes an extended period of time out in the sunlight to occur. Most helmet shells incorporate a chemical UV inhibitor in the material that resists UV damage. Even with that, an extended period of time in the sun or high-altitude exposures can damage the shell of the helmet, as evidenced by fading color or cracks in the shell.

If you observe either of these situations, it’s time to replace your helmet.

So that should give you some general guidelines as to what can damage your helmet, and when it makes sense to replace it. If you are unsure about the condition of your helmet, most manufacturers have a 1-800 number listed on their website where you can seek additional advice.

And… when you do get a new helmet, mark the month and year on the interior with a permanent marker somewhere so you know when you put it into service.

303 Endurance | A.V. Schmit

A.V. Schmit
Writer, artist, avid cyclist, master mechanic and lover of Greyhounds.

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