[GUIDE] Shopping for a Used Motorcycle Helmet

Your head is the most important thing to protect while riding a motorcycle. Cuts, road rash, scrapes, and the like will heal over time on other parts of your body. But if you do damage to your head, you can be left with brain damage, life-altering injuries, or, ultimately, you could die because of blunt force trauma.

It is absolutely essential to have a properly fitting, certified helmet protecting your brain. 99 out of 100 times, buying a new helmet will be the best option to protect yourself. However, if you absolutely must buy a used helmet, there are a variety of things to watch out for.

I will stress this again and again throughout this article: If you are looking at buying a used helmet and something just doesn’t feel right with the helmet, or your gut tells you to walk away, follow your instincts and walk away.

Used motorcycle helmet buying guide graphic

Inspect The Entire Helmet

  • Make sure you inspect the entire helmet. Don’t just flip it over in your hands and give it a cursory glance.
  • Run your hand over the shell, feeling for bumps and cracks that may have been painted over or sealed.
  • Pull out the inner lining and inspect the EPS foam, looking for melted spots or dimples in the foam that may tell of overheating or wearing of the foam.
  • Make absolutely sure that the certification sticker on the base of the back of the helmet is genuine. Many manufacturers will actually imprint this in paint/under the lacquer of the helmet to prevent counterfeiting.

DOT or certification sticker/label placement

  • Look for signs of damage, including paint that is peeling or cracking.
  • Inspect the lining after taking it out.
    • Is it clean?
    • Are there any tears or repair marks that might show a previous accident?
  • Inspect the chin strap mounts.
    • Are they secure?
    • Are the straps frayed at all?
    • Does it still feel solid?
  • Assess the buckle.
    • Is it damaged or worn?
    • Does it stay clasped when tugged on?

Interior sticker or label for manufacturing date and materials

Most importantly, every helmet should have a tag on the lining and a sticker on the EPS foam that has its manufacturing date and composition details. If it’s a polycarbonate helmet, those last approximately four years with standard use. A composite helmet will last up to 7 years depending on usage.

Jim Pruner and Cameron Martel from webBikeWorld went to Snell, a leading third-party helmet testing and certification organization, and on the subject of helmet age, Snell commented that age is less a factor compared to the condition and use of the helmet.

Helmets Are One Use Only

A helmet is designed to perform its primary function, that of protecting your head, once. If someone is listing a helmet for sale and while you’re inspecting it they mention “I bumped my head once wearing it on (list item here),” walk away from the sale. They’re probably worried you will find a repaired crack or damage to the interior foam and will say they stood up of their bike too quickly and hit their head on a tree branch or something similar to explain it.

Crashed Bell helmet

The image above is of a helmet that has been through a severe crash, yet looks “fine.” So keep in mind, there are lots of ways to damage a helmet. The previous owner may have thrown it in a bit of road rage and damaged it that way. They may have had a low-speed crash in the helmet, which absorbed the impact. They might have rear-ended a truck and headbutted the tailgate. No matter what, the helmet is considered destroyed at that moment and you need to just walk away.

What About Helmets That Have Been Dropped?

I dropped my helmet! Do I have to get a new one? Is it still safe to ride in the helmet after it has been dropped? These are timeless questions that will come up for discussion from time to time. We’ve all been there, and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will.

Sometimes you get so hyped up on the ride when you get off, all you want to do is take off your helmet and high-five your buds. That is when you realized you’ve placed your helmet at a slippery angle on the bike and you turn around to the sound of “WHACK!” “ROLL…” Ask me how I know.

But all is well! According to the Snell Foundation, if you drop your helmet, you probably do not need to purchase a new one. Helmets are one-use items as discussed above, but they are quite durable otherwise. Frequent “unoccupied” dropping or spiking a helmet on the ground (or other hard surfaces) will eventually degrade the helmet’s performance, but a few drops are okay.

If the seller tells you the helmet has been dropped but not crashed, check the shell. As you are running your fingers through the helmet, remember that scratches are acceptable but broken shells or hairline cracks are detrimental. If there are a lot of scrapes and scratches on the helmet, just walk away. This shows that the owner is careless about his property and probably not a great person to do business with.

If Possible, Buy From Someone You Know

Buying a used helmet from a stranger is probably one of the most dangerous things you could do. You don’t know the helmet’s history, the way it has been treated when not being worn, or what it has been exposed to in its lifetime. If you absolutely must buy a used helmet, do your utmost to buy it from a friend or someone you know.

This is mostly for your own protection, as more than likely, a friend will let you fully inspect the helmet and answer your questions honestly. You may have already worn the helmet as a pillion on their bike and found it comfortable, and a good friend will make sure their passenger’s helmet is as good as their own. As well, you will more than likely get a true answer about the helmet’s age.

If At All Possible, Buy a New Helmet

This is what it really breaks down to. There are DOT certified helmets all the way down to $80 on sites like RevZilla.com or 2Wheel.com when a sale is on. A lot of very good helmets can be found for less than $250 with all the features you need to be properly safe.

To help you out, a great starting point is The Best Motorcycle Helmets for Beginners Under $500 [2022], where several of the helmets listed are under $250.

All the parts of a helmet that keep you safe

However, if buying used is your only option, then approach the purchase without any firm commitment to buying. Inspect, inspect some more, and then re-inspect. Ask questions. Find out the age. If the manufacturer’s tag or sticker is missing inside the helmet, ask why. If anything seems fishy, walk away. This is especially true if the helmet seems to be too good a deal to be true, since the helmet may also be counterfeit.

If you’re still looking for good helmets, check out our helmet reviews and guides to find a helmet that will keep you safe and comfortable while you ride.

  1. At CASTODIAN Foundation our motto is “Guarding Heads. Saving Lives.”

    Our advice: NEVER buy a used helmet, EVER!

    From research, we know that there are 7 factors that make a helmet – any helmet – safe for its user, and for this specific user alone. (Check https://castodian.org/)

    The 3 most important of these 7 factors are:
    1. A helmet should be without any damage or defects
    2. It should be less than 7 years old, from production date
    3. The (new!) helmet should fit very tight, as it will become a bit bigger through wearing

    At 1. There is NO WAY one can see and make sure whether a helmet does not have some kind of damage / crack in the inner-helmet, the impact-absorbing liner in the picture above; this goes especially for the plastic / polycarbonate helmets, as this material is highly flexible, does not (easily) break with a crash and gets back to its initial form after a crash.
    However the shock-absorbing inner-helmet has sustained irrepairable damage and lost all its absorbing qualities, without this being visible, and is NOT safe!

    At 2. This is a really important safety-factor as well: although (and especially with outer-shells from composite material, like e.g. fiberglass or carbon) the outer-shell will be “OK” for at least 7 to up to 10 years or longer, the inner-shell however is NOT!
    This inner-shell, the part that absorbs the energy of a crash, is in 99% of all cases made of polystyrene: after 7 years, whether the helmet is being used OR NOT, this material will have lost its absorbing ability, due to the loss of the plasticisers!

    (NOTE. The above thus also means that “bargains” when buying a helmet can be tricky too: these 7 years also apply to helmets on the shelf with dealers!)

    At 3. If a helmet is too large (and therewith fits fairly comfortably), which is unfortunately too often the case, it either might come-off during a crash, or might shift and breaks ones collarbone or – even worse – damages neck vertebrae.
    A new helmet, especially at the beginning, should fit (overly) tight, as in time it will get a bit bigger and “forms to ones head”. A used helmet had gone through this process already, with its prior user, and therefor will have a less proper fit at all times!

    As a genuinly certified***, NEW and therewith in basis safe helmet can already be found from as less as $50,00, one NEVER should buy a used helmet!

    (***DOT does NOT have the highest safety standard, compared to SNELL, SHARP or even ECE, but is the official and minimum certification standard for the US: there are helmets in the market that apply to several certification standards at the same time)

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