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Nitrogen in Tires Pros and Cons

Nitrogen in Tires Pros and Cons

Inflating car tires with nitrogen in place of air has become quite a popular practice of late. In this WheelZine article, we tell you pros and cons of doing so.
Parashar Joshi
A couple of weeks back, I was traveling along with my friend in his SUV. Just before we were about to hit the expressway, my friend pulled over at a roadside gas station. I assumed it was a routine refueling stop and so didn't think much of it. However, I was quite surprised when I realized that it was not gas that we had stopped for, rather it was a 'nitro' stop. What my friend was doing was inflating nitrogen in the tires instead of air. This was a first for me, as I hadn't seen or heard about anything like this anytime earlier. During the course of our remaining journey, I quizzed my friend regarding the concept of inflating nitrogen in tires, the pros and cons of doing so, and its resultant benefits to car owners. Here is all that I learned.

Is Filling Nitrogen in Tires Good or Bad?

I was aware of the fact that pure nitrogen is used for inflating aircraft tires and those of race cars. However, I was in the dark regarding its uses in normal passenger cars and personal vehicles. Within a few minutes of conversing with my friend, I was aware of the advantages of nitrogen filled tires as well the associated drawbacks. Well, first comes the good part.

The following are the advantages of inflating car tires with pure nitrogen, instead of regular air.
  • A tire that has been inflated with nitrogen will maintain 'air pressure' much better and for a slightly longer period of time, as compared to a tire that has been inflated with regular air. This is because nitrogen molecules are larger in size than oxygen molecules and therefore, are less likely to leak or escape through the tire valve.
  • This indirectly helps in bettering the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. This is because, insufficient air pressure in the car tire can have an adverse effect on its fuel consumption and resultant fuel efficiency. Nitrogen filled tires have better and more consistent 'air pressure' which consequently, aid the vehicle's fuel efficiency (even if it is by a small margin).
  • Pure nitrogen is much drier than regular air (which contains water vapor). Depending on tire temperatures, the water vapor in the air undergoes changes in pressure, which results in varying tire pressures. This is not an issue in case of tires that are filled with nitrogen.
  • Oxygen and water vapor react with the insides of the car tire, i.e., with the rubber as well as the metal rims, and gradually lead to development and deposition of rust. This has an adverse effect on the longevity of the car tire. Nitrogen does not react with the car tire insides or with the rim, thereby enhancing the life of the car tire.
  • Nitrogen is a gas that does not support combustion, therefore in case of an extremely overheated tire catching fire, nitrogen makes for much better safety than regular air (which contains oxygen that supports combustion).
  • Filling nitrogen in tires also helps in keeping the insides of the tire cool, even at high speeds.
Now for the bad news (or should I say, the not-so-good news).
  • There is only one drawback of substituting air with nitrogen. Nitrogen costs money, unlike air, which is free. Inflating tires with pure nitrogen can cost anywhere between USD 4 to USD 12 per tire. That makes for nearly USD 15 to USD 50 for all four tires. Not many people are interested in spending that kind of money on a weekly basis, particularly if they are not wholly convinced about the benefits or if the benefits are marginal.
This was a short overview of inflating nitrogen in tires. As I sign off, I leave you with a few tips for tire safety and maintenance. Browsing through them could very well help you in taking care of your vehicle tires.