Filling A Tire With Air Or Nitrogen? Not Such A Big Thing After All.

A couple of years ago, I joined my fellow rice rocket fans all over the world in drooling over the newest incarnation of the Nissan Skyline GTR, a car hailed as the new standard in commercially available automotive bling. The twin-turbo V6, custom built transmissions and nitrogen filled tires immediately broke the scales on my geek-o-meter. These were the kind of specs you expected in supercars completely beyond your affordability, the kind you got posters of and put on your wall just to lust over.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that nitrogen fill tires are available for pretty much every car you can imagine, and are actually free with new tires at Costco.

Ever since the automobile was invented, gearheads all over the world have been subjected to wares that claim to boost the performance of a vehicle. Some are more cosmetic than functional, like body kits or carbon fiber exhausts. Others, like turbochargers and nitrous oxide injection, have become car culture legends. Modded vehicles are common in city streets, movies and television. So where does the nitrogen filled tire stand?

What Is The Difference Between Nitrogen Fill and Air?

Nitrogen makes up around 78% of the air already in your tires, so at first glance there’s nothing different in filling your tires with pure nitrogen. Pure nitrogen fills are available for up to $10 at most auto shops. They can be used with any existing tires, but since nitrogen is lighter than air, the pressure should be adjusted to match the vehicle’s cold pressure rating. The exact number can be found on the inside driver’s door, or in the manual. Other than that, there is no practical difference between filling your tires with air or nitrogen.

Should I Swap Out The Gas In My Tires?

Seeing as nitrogen fills range from inexpensive to actually free, there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t opt for switching to nitrogen gas in your tires the next time you get a new set. The main problem is keeping them filled with nitrogen, since some dealers will scam you for up to $60 to completely replace the gas in the tires, and you can’t exactly grab a nitrogen hose at a gas station. If your warranty covers these expenses, by all means take advantage of the option.

No matter what kind of vehicle you own, nitrogen gas can be injected as easily as air. It also comes with a nifty fluorescent pressure cap and bragging rights the next time you want to show off your car.

What Are The Benefits?

Proponents claim that the stability of nitrogen gas spreads weight more evenly in your tire. More stability equals better fuel economy and improved handling. Nitrogen also retards oxidation, since there’s no oxygen in it, and corrosion, since there’s no water in it. Air has both of these tire-eating substances and is responsible for most of the aging on your tires. Granted, most rust damage and tire rot comes from the outside of a tire, but supporters claim that a nitrogen fill will extend a tire’s life. With supercars like the GTR specifically requiring nitrogen fill, there’s plenty of street cred as well.

The other major beneft of nitrogen fill tires is nitrogen’s ability to retard flames. The reason nitrous oxide accelerates a vehicle is because it increases the oxygen in an engine’s combustion, burning harder and hotter by consuming more fuel. Pure nitrogen does the opposite; it contains no oxygen and can actually slow down a fire when released from the tires. This property translates to a lower chance of toxic tire smoke and an added safety measure.

What Are The Risks?

The risks are really quite minimal when it comes to what kind of gas you’re pressuring your tires with. Unfortunately, tires last years before they disintegrate and nitrogen fills are relatively new; none of the benefits are well documented in real-world conditions even though the science is solid and there are no seriously detrimental effects.

Shelling out the extra few bucks for the racing edge is not an issue for the basic gearhead or motorcyclist concerned with peak performance. For a casual motorist in this economy, nitrogen fills cannot be called essential. The biggest risk is getting ripped off for a service that is as easily done as a normal air fill, for a benefit that you might not even notice.


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