This story originally appeared in SportsCar magazine's March 2013 issue. SportsCar is the official publication of the Sports Car Club of America. www.scca.com.
Is this helmet safe to use? It was only worn once. It smells nearly new. Now look at the top and you'll notice what appears to be a paint chip. While the damage resembles only a scrape, if you could see through the shell you'd find the EPS (expanded polystyrene), which absorbs impacts, is actually compressed to the point that this helmet is completely written off. Apparently, looks aren't everything.
“When you have a damage mark on the helmet, you need to take into consideration what caused it,” says Patrick Britain of HJC Helmets. “If it's a situation where you brush it against a wall and it just scrapes the paint off and doesn't damage the inner foam [EPS] then it's probably OK, but when it's an impact that's hard enough to crack the paint, the EPS inside might be compromised.”
The life of this particular helmet was short but bright. The helmet was worn once, the vehicle rolled over, and the helmet took multiple impacts to the roll cage. The driver walked away with no injuries. But the point is, for all intents and purposes, the helmet looks fine.
“Helmets seem rigid, but they do flex and bend,” Britain explains. “The paint isn't always going to bend with it, so if you hit hard enough to make the paint come off and it cracks the paint, then you had a really big impact.”
If you think your helmet is damaged, it is sometimes possible to send the helmet to the manufacturer or authorized dealer for an inspection. Britain warns, however, this may not be necessary as, in his experience, 99 percent of the time when someone sends their helmet in for inspection the helmet needs to be replaced.
But what if you drive an open-cockpit car where you're constantly being pelted with rocks and debris. According to Britain, it's not the shell these drivers need to be concerned about – it's the visor. Luckily, visor damage is easy to spot.
“Damage to the shield is typically visible,” Britain explains. “A visor will erode from dirt, gravel, and rubber, which will put divots in it, like you're sandblasting it. If you're running anything open-cockpit, you'll want to run tear-offs to protect the shield.” As for the rocks that hit the shell during competition, Britain explains that those are generally deflected and not of major concern.
Have you had an impact to your helmet? If so, it's probably a safer bet to replace it rather than taking chances. To help you on your way in helmet shopping, the next page includes a number of advertisers who offer a variety of helmets to fit your needs.
Search for helmets here:
Bell Racing G-Force Racing Gear HJC Motorsports
www.bellracing.com www.gforce.com www.HJC-Motorsports.com
(800) 237-2700 (770) 998-8855 (562) 407-2186
Safe Racer Sparco
(866) 781-0997 (800) 224-RACE