So, everyone knows how great helium is – you know, party balloons, squeaky voices. But a lot of people still haven’t heard about the benefits of nitrogen for your tires, and how it can help your tires.
Nitrogen has actually been around for a long time in the commercial sector, but it’s just starting to catch on for private vehicles.
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 regular 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, well, you can be significantly low – low enough to actually affect your handling, shorten tire life and waste money at the fuel pump.
How does nitrogen help? Regular air contains about 78% nitrogen. Nitrogen is the largest molecule in air. It’s dry and non-flammable. Air also contains 21% oxygen, which is smaller and seeps out of the tire three to four times faster than nitrogen.
So, a tire filled with nitrogen will take about six months to lose as much pressure as regular air does in just one month. So it’s more forgiving for those of you who don’t check your pressure every week.
Also, when oxygen is at higher temperatures – like those inside your tire when you’ve been driving for awhile – it oxidizes the inside of your tire. Getting the oxygen out of your tire means that it’ll last longer.
Who’s using nitrogen? Well, 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 US government requires all commercial aircraft to have nitrogen in their tires. NASA and the US Military use nitrogen. The mining industry has been filling those “humongous” tires with nitrogen for years. And semi trucks and trailers are starting to use nitrogen extensively.
You may have heard some detractors of nitrogen. But the studies and white papers from tire and vehicle manufacturers demonstrate that the technology really works.
In fact, 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. But that particular test has very little to do with the real world. Most tires are actually holding up cars and they also get driven around and do a lot of work. So if nitrogen helps them last longer, saves gas and gives safer handling, it’s worth considering.