Checking your crash helmet for damage
How to check your motorcycle crash helmet for damage and understand how to store and look after it.
You need a damaged helmet like you need, er, a hole in your head…
If you’ve had an accident, even a minor one, check your motorcycle helmet for damage.
The golden rule is, even the impact was minor, the internal structure of the helmet may have been damaged.
Unfortunately, considering the cost of some helmets, this means you should inspect your lid every time it’s dropped.
The basic rules of helmet damage
If the helmet was dropped from a coffee table, generally speaking, you should be OK, but if you have any doubts get it checked. If your head was in the lid at the time, it’s a different story – a lightweight helmet has a certain amount of resistance in it. Stick a heavy old head in there (the average head weighs 10 -11 lbs / 4.5-5 kg!) and the weight of the head adds compression to the foam from the inside. So even a slow impact, with a heavy head inside, can affect the protective structure.
If there are obvious signs, like cracking or splitting of the outer shell, bin the crash helmet. It’s had it.
Surface scratches are more difficult to diagnose – you may have slid the helmet along a surface and while there’s no cracking, the inner protective layer may have lost it’s structural integrity in some way. If the scratches are light and will polish out (be careful of the damage polishing compounds can cause, especially if they contain petroleum) that’s probably a sign that helmet is OK, but get it checked at your helmet dealer.
Even without dropping or bashing the lid, there could be damage that affects its performance simply due to age. Manufacturers generally recommend changing a helmet every two to four years, as materials like glues and resins can deteriorate.
It pains me to write this because for years it’s how I bought my skid-lids, but you should never buy a second-hand helmet. You simply don’t know it’s history and even if the seller claims it’s never been dropped (at least by them) there is absolutely no guarantee that it hasn’t, or that it has been stored and cleaned correctly.
The safety standard
Virtually every country has it’s own standards but the UK’s ACU gold sticker ensures a helmet has been tested to pretty much the highest standard. You’re not allowed on a UK track day without one on your lid. We recommend not putting one on that doesn’t have the sticker.
The UK government has produced a website, http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/, where you can check the safety rating of your helmet. My Shoei NXR scored four stars out of five, which slightly surprised me for a near £400 helmet – the lesson there is that just because a helmet may have cost a lot, doesn’t mean it meets the safest standard.
The hidden damage.
So how do you check that the important bit, the protective layer between the inner hard lining and the outer shell is intact? Generally speaking, unless you are an expert, you can’t. Polycarbonate helmets especially are tricky as the outer layer is designed to spring back into place after a knock – this could hide damage underneath the skin.
Some manufacturers, like Arai, offer a free post-accident check and will send you a Certificate of Confirmation that the helmet is Fit for Use or Not Fit for Use as appropriate. In fact, Arai helmets come with a free clean, check and service when you visit their stand at shows like Motorcycle Live, even if the helmet is out of warranty. You could remove the inner linings for obvious signs of damage but if you are not an expert how do you know what else to look for?
Cleaning can damage your helmet
Sounds obvious, but read the manufacturer’s instructions, because the type of cleaner you use on your helmet, depending on the types of materials it’s made from, could damage the outer lady. And we’re not just talking taking the shine off – the structural integrity of the shell can be affected by the chemicals in your cleaner.
You should avoid using petroleum-based cleaning fluids on polycarbonate helmets, for example. This includes furniture polish. We know it’s tempting to use Mr Sheene to polish your helmet, but don’t even put on your bald head for extra shine – the petrochemicals will rub off and deteriorate the lining. Same goes for hair gel.
If you’ve lost the original helmet care tags and don’t know what your lid’s is made from, use the mildest soap you possibly can or a specialist helmet cleaner.
Storage can have an impact too.
The way you store your helmet can affect its integrity too. Fluids such as petrol and cleaning materials can release damaging chemicals into the nearby atmosphere (think how much your average petrol station tends to stink a bit). These chemicals can settle on an uncovered helmet, so keep the lid away from these kinds of fluids, preferably in its box or a cupboard (not the cleaning cupboard, fool!). We’ve read that exhaust fumes can have an affect too, so if you keep the lid on a rack in the garage, at least cover it with something. It’s probably not wise to leave the lid on your petrol tank for long periods either…
Heat is known to affect helmets too, even sunny windowsills. And dangling your £300+ helmet near your bike’s hot exhaust is a complete no-no – both the heat and chemicals from the exhaust fumes can damage your slick Rossi rep lid. You may not be able to see the damage to the outer shell, but if you hold one of those cheap polystyrene coffee cups next to a hot exhaust pipe you’ll soon see the damage that could be caused beneath the outer skin.
Stickers and painting your helmet…yes or no.
Again, it’s best to dig out those annoying little booklets that came with the lid when it was shiny and new. Chemicals in both the paint and the glue can affect integrity and weaken the surface structure. If in doubt give the manufacturer (or it’s local distributer) a shout. Personally, I wouldn’t risk it.
Make sure you’re sorted:
If you’re in any doubt, give an expert a shout if you are unsure if your helmet has been compromised or not.
More advice on crash helmets