Using only nitrogen to inflate tires is a relatively new idea. Introduced around 2006, the theory was brought forward as a means to save money by increasing fuel economy. This is because nitrogen is an inert gas, meaning it’s a property free, non-reactive substance. Whereas regular air is 79% nitrogen, 20% oxygen and approximately 1% other compounds. It’s this 20% oxygen in air that creates an issue for inflated tires.
Oxygen, as you’ll recall from your chemistry classes, has this tendency to oxidize when combined with other molecules. And this oxidation is very troublesome and destructive. Do you have rust on your car? That’s from oxidation! And this oxidation is a very big threat to things composed of steel and rubber such as your car frame, axle and wheel components or rubber on your tires.
Benefits Of Nitrogen In Tires
It would be impossible, however, for oxidation to occur in your tires if filled with nitrogen only. Since nitrogen is oxygen free, water or condensation cannot form within a tire. In other words, if there is no oxygen then we are without the possibility of oxidation. If there’s no oxidation, then there’s no rust and corrosion possible. Or, in the case of rubber tires, if there is no oxidation then there is no tire rot.
It’s safe to say that nitrogen in tires is beneficial. Several experiments by tire manufacturers have proved that tires filled with air only seemed to fluctuate in pressure. This was mostly due to temperature fluctuations. While these same types of experiments with nitrogen-filled tires, the pressure changes due to temperature are hardly noticeable.
Nitrogen And Better Fuel Economy
As it pertains to better fuel consumption, the benefits experienced by having nitrogen in tires is based on nitrogen having larger molecules compared to oxygen. Having smaller molecules, oxygen is far more likely to pass through the tires a lot easier and faster than the larger nitrogen molecules. This process is called permeation and is far less probable with nitrogen filled tires.
By using oxygen (or air), the vehicle owner is more likely to have underinflated tires much sooner. This will ultimately lead to producing poor gas mileage and here’s why. If a tire is underinflated, the tire tends to flatten out creating more surface area touching the roadway. When this occurs, more friction is created. And more friction equals more resistance. More resistance equals more fuel being used to power the car down the road.
Other Benefits Of Nitrogen vs Air In Tires
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems are electrical devices, so water and moisture shouldn’t be near them. Nitrogen is a friendly and compatible ally with systems like these since nitrogen is entirely dry. Condensation and moisture cannot occur with nitrogen filled tires.
Most tires are equipped with steel belts that can rust due to water moisturization. In most cases, the damage is not visible outside. This is commonly unnoticed and the damage may already be extensive underneath the tire’s surface.
Nitrogen is also incombustible, this means that it is safer to have nitrogen-filled tires in the event of a fire. This is opposed to oxygen that encourages fire. The natural chemical components of nitrogen also reduce impurities that may be present in the tire’s interior. This is an advantageous ability since contaminants can sometimes cause clogs or trigger punctures and leaks.
Another notable benefit of nitrogen in tires is the fact that it can withstand extreme winter temperatures. This provides better handling and control for the driver even in winter months. There are also pressure changes that can occur even when using nitrogen. Though these changes were observed to be far less troublesome than with compressed air.
Potential Drawbacks To Nitrogen Filled Tires
Nitrogen filled tires can lose about 1.5-2 psi in an average span of 3 or 4 months. Tires with compressed air, on the other hand, can lose this much pressure in just one month. Nevertheless, regularly checking the tire pressure is still a must with nitrogen filled tires. Ensuring properly inflated tires is critical for safe driving regardless if tires are filled with nitrogen or air. See Tire Gadgets list of best tire gauges to help you find the right tool for checking your tire pressure.
Depending on your location, nitrogen can also cost a few bucks more to put in your tires while air is virtually free. Sometimes this nitrogen-fill service comes with free refills. However, that means you’ll need to go back to the selling location each time a refill is needed. It’s also possible that there could be a charge for nitrogen refills, anywhere from $2-$10 per tire.
How To Put Nitrogen In Your Tires
The method used in filling tires with nitrogen is done by initially purging the tires to get rid of existing air. This is also done to eradicate any present moisture brought by condensation. The tires are then filled with nitrogen in much the same way as standard air. Nitrogen is pumped into the tire until the desired pressure is met. Once the pressure is brought to the recommended PSI, the valve cap is replaced and the tire is ready for the road.
It’s best not to fill your tires with nitrogen at home without sufficient knowledge of the procedure. Only tire professionals with prior experience and capabilities know how to put nitrogen in tires and will have the correct tools available to do so.