How Long do Road Flares Last?

emergency road flares

Road flares don’t have an expiration date, but there are several tell-tale signs that may indicate they won’t perform as expected.

Inclement weather has arrived and you pull over to the side of the road until it subsides and it’s safe to drive again. You’re having car trouble and need to wait for a tow. Or maybe you’re experiencing a medical issue and have to get off the road until an ambulance can arrive or the episode subsides.

In any of the aforementioned instances, it’s important to stay safe while your vehicle is pulled over – and an ideal way to do this is to light a road flare to alert others of and to your location. Every vehicle should have an emergency road flare on hand in the event of an emergency. When lit, flares burn for up to 60 minutes, are visible for up to 3 miles away and work to alert other motorists of your presence and signal for help. But how long do road flares last? And when should you refrain from using one? Let’s take a look at what you need to know:

How Long Do Road Flares Last?

Safety experts suggest having up to three road flares in your vehicle in case of an emergency. But being that road flares typically are not marked with expiration dates, it’s important to take note of their condition.

No Expiration Date

Though federal regulations require that all pyrotechnic devices be properly labeled and marked, this doesn’t always pertain to the expiration date of road flares. In fact, road flares are not required by law to include an expiration date. But just because they don’t include an expiration date doesn’t mean that they’re timeless. Flares are prone to their share of issues over time, and these issues – combined with old age – can make them more dangerous and more likely to accidently ignite.

Signs You Shouldn’t Use a Road Flare

Like we said, while road flares aren’t required to have an expiration date, this doesn’t mean that they can’t go bad. Common signs of damage are rusting or water damage, which may prevent these tools from igniting or significantly reduce the time they stay lit for. Tears, holes, and other damage to the flare’s exterior are additional signs of damage to look for. It’s good practice to check the condition of your road flares every other oil change or when you have your vehicle’s tires rotated. Store flares in a dry, secure area of your vehicle to minimize the risk of accidental damage.

What About Marine Flares?

Unlike road flares, marine flares are required to include an expiration date. This is for a few reasons. One, marine flares are typically ignited on a vessel, where if something were to go wrong, the vessel and any passengers on board could be put in serious danger. And two, it’s imperative that marine flares work properly when signaling for help over open water so any search and rescue efforts can quickly locate boaters in need. As noted, any flare that has sustained damage or has significantly aged is subject to performance issues.

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Marine flares have an expiration date of 42 months from the date of their original manufacturing.

Road Flare Alternatives

One alternative to conventional road flares are LED flares. These are not considered pyrotechnic devices and therefore do not come with the same fire risk. Instead of using flammable ingredients, they’re powered by batteries. Most LED flares are also waterproof, dustproof and durable. LED flares have become popular among motorists and first responders in recent years.

How to Ignite a Road Flare

If you’re involved in an emergency situation and need to ignite a road flare, there are directions to follow. As noted previously, first check the condition of the flares to ensure they’re safe and suitable to ignite. Next, find a level, preferably paved surface at least 100 feet away from your vehicle and any other oncoming traffic to place the flare after you light it. Refrain from placing it around vegetation, gasoline spills or anything else that could become flammable.

After you locate your spot, it’s time to light the road flare. Find the cap at one end of the flare and remove it. This will expose the end of the flare and the ignite area. Hold the flare away from your body and face, gripping it from the middle, and ignite it by rubbing the end of the flare against the cap – similar to lighting a match. After the flare is lit, place it on the safe spot that you’ve identified.

When the flare is no longer needed, always extinguish it before you exit the site. Do this by either dousing it with water or grinding the lit end against the pavement to put out the flame. Ensure it is completely extinguished before discarding it or placing it back in your vehicle.

Remember, just because road flares aren’t required to have an expiration date doesn’t mean that they’re good forever. Be sure to inspect their condition frequently or consider complementing conventional road flares with LED alternatives in the event of an emergency. When was the last time that you had to use a road flare? When was the last time that you checked on the condition of the flares in your vehicle? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “How Long do Road Flares Last?”

  1. I’ve noticed that road flares have pretty much been eliminated as a Sku product in the general merchandise chain stores – even the chains that cater to the trucking industry with a special section are eliminating road flares – the ones with a spike nail are almost impossible to find retail wise ….

    I’ve started adding some landscaping spikes to my flare bundle for setting flares upright vs road flat – one hell of a difference in visability ….

    1. Fantastic tip! We’ll do some digging to see if we can put together a list of which stores might still keep these in stock.

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