Nitrogen inflation: Adding life to your tires

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A graphic depicting a standard auto tire with the words "nitrogen inflation" superimposed over the tread.

Some automotive experts swear by nitrogen inflation, but others dispute its effectiveness. (Photo: King Automotive & Alignment)

Replacing the standard oxygen used to inflate tires with nitrogen is becoming a popular trend in the consumer automotive world. The website Why Nitrogen? suggests that using nitrogen inflation will enhance a vehicle’s handling capabilities, improve fuel efficiency, extend the life of a set of tires and reduce the carbon footprint. Nitrogen inflation claims are based in very basic science, and studies by trusted publications such as Consumer Reports have supported the idea.

Nitrogen inflation: Dry and non-flammable

In addition to being dry and non-flammable, nitrogen gas is said to escape from a tire as many as four times more slowly than oxygen. This is because nitrogen molecules are large, hence less likely to seep through the rubber, claims Why Nitrogen? Tires that maintain proper inflation longer stay in proper contact with the road longer. Not only that, but they make the vehicle more fuel efficient, as the engine doesn’t have to work as hard to move the vehicle forward. And fuel efficiency equals environmental friendliness. Furthermore, running tires with proper inflation via nitrogen inflation keeps the right surfaces in contact with the road (rather than the sidewall), which in turn extends tire and rim life.

How pure is pure?

Numerous opinions exist regarding what nitrogen inflation concentration is necessary to achieve the above benefits. Most reliable sources indicate anywhere from 93 to 98 percent pure nitrogen inflation should work well. Honestly, if it’s good enough for NASCAR, it’s good enough for average consumers.

NASCAR likes nitrogen inflation for its predictability

During a NASCAR race, a sudden loss of tire pressure can be disastrous. Not only does it require a quick pit stop that can cause a car to fall behind in a race, underinflated tires can cause serious accidents on the track. That is why racecar drivers have switched to nitrogen inflation in recent years. Pure nitrogen inflation, according to Why Nitrogen? is much less likely than standard air (which carries some water vapor) to be affected by temperature. Thus, inflation levels fluctuate much less when nitrogen is used. Commercial airlines and the government use nitrogen for similar reasons.

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