If you’re like a lot of folks, you may not have heard about nitrogen service for your tires. It’s been around for a long time in the commercial sector, but it’s just starting to catch on for private vehicles.
So why nitrogen in your tires? Air’s air, right? Well it turns out there is a difference. At the heart of the matter is maintaining proper tire inflation. When your tires are properly inflated, they last longer, handle better and more safely and they save money at the gas pump.
The problem is that tires filled with air can lose a pound and a half of air pressure every month. This just happens as the oxygen in the tire seeps out. So if you don’t check your pressure for a month or two you can be significantly low – low enough to affect handling, shorten tire life and waste money at the fuel pump.
So how does nitrogen help? Well, regular air contains about 78% nitrogen. Nitrogen is the largest molecule in air. It’s dry and non-flammable. Air also contains 21% oxygen. Oxygen molecules are smaller and seep out of the tire three to four times faster than nitrogen. The last 1% of air is water and other gases.
So, a tire filled with nitrogen will take about six months to lose as much pressure as regular air does in a month. So it’s more forgiving of those who don’t check their pressure every week.
Also, oxygen at higher temperatures – like those inside your tire when you’ve been driving for awhile – oxidizes the inside of your tire. Getting the oxygen out of your tire means that it’ll last longer.
So who’s using nitrogen? Let’s start with NASCAR and Indy. These racers like nitrogen’s ability to maintain consistent tire pressure and reduce tire temperatures under very demanding conditions. The U.S. government requires all commercial aircraft to have nitrogen in their tires. NASA and the U.S. Military use nitrogen. The mining industry has been filling those ginormous tires with nitrogen for years. Semi trucks and trailers are starting to use nitrogen extensively.
Now, you may have heard some detractors of nitrogen. There are studies and white papers from tire and vehicle manufacturers that make most comfortable with the technology. A prominent consumer research group did a study where they filled some tires with air and some with nitrogen and stacked them outside for a year.
They observed that the nitrogen filled tires did hold their pressure better, but they couldn’t see the economic benefit. Objectively, that particular test had very little to do with the real world. On the road or in the driveway, tires support the weight of your car. They also get driven around and do a lot of work. If nitrogen helps them last longer, save gas and give safer handling, what’s the problem?
Look to all those professionals like NASCAR drivers and heavy equipment operators. These guys chart everything they do and they invest in the benefits of nitrogen. The good news is that nitrogen fill doesn’t cost very much or take long. It doesn’t affect your tire warranty. If you decide that nitrogen is right for you, remember that it’s still important to check your tire pressure regularly. You might have a leak that needs to be fixed. And you can always top your tire off with regular air if you need to.