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TIRES 101: Nitrogen vs. Air
TIRES 101: Nitrogen vs. Air

Have you heard of using nitrogen as an alternative to air for tire inflation? Is it something you should be using in your own tires? Let’s discuss…

Tires are designed and built to provide many miles of reliable service but must be properly maintained for them to do so. The key element of proper tire maintenance is proper tire inflation. The recommended tire pressures actually originate from the vehicle manufacturer and NOT the tire companies. To find your vehicle’s recommended tire pressures, you should look on the vehicle’s tire placard which is on the door post or the edge of the driver’s side door. Another place to look is in the owner’s manual, on the inside of the clove box door or sometimes inside the fuel door. General Tire recommends that the consumer check his/her tire inflation pressures at regular intervals of at least once per month and before every long trip.

All gasses expand when heated and contract when cooled. Tire inflation pressures are no different. They can rise and fall with changes in ambient temps by one psi (pounds per square inch) for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it’s recommended that you check your pressures early in the morning before the sun heats up your tires or prior to heat generated by driving which also causes the pressures to rise.

Using Nitrogen in Your Tires

Why is nitrogen used in tires? In its purest form, nitrogen has been used primarily because it doesn’t support moisture or combustion. Nitrogen is an inert (non-flammable) gas – nothing more than dry air with the oxygen removed. Ambient air contains usually contains 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% miscellaneous gas. Because of nitrogen’s inert properties, it is often used in highly specialized tire service applications and/or demanding environments. These applications usually include aircraft, mining and commercial/heavy use. Also, nitrogen is used in professional auto racing where extreme vehicle speeds are involved. Dry nitrogen is used in this regard to help reduce tire pressure variations where the smallest differences in pressures can have a negative effect on race vehicle handling at the extreme limits of performance.

Should I Use Nitrogen in my Tires

For normal everyday consumer tire service applications, nitrogen tire inflation is not required or overly beneficial. However, nitrogen tire inflation does not harm tires and may marginally contribute to reductions in tire inflation loss by permeation. Nevertheless, nitrogen will not prevent any tire inflation loss caused by punctures, tire/rim interface (bead) leaks, valve leaks, valve/rim interface leaks, wheel leaks and other mechanical leaks. Again, the use of nitrogen alone does not substitute for the importance of regularly checking your pressures. If the tire inflation pressure is below the pressure specified on the vehicle placard, the tire must be re-inflated – whether with air or nitrogen – to the proper inflation pressure. Do not operate tires underinflated and/or overloaded (see your vehicle owner’s manual for tire inflation and max load recommendations).

What’s the Bottom Line?

Whether inflated with air or nitrogen, the bottom line is to regularly check your pressures as pressure maintenance is critical and necessary. Use of nitrogen alone is not a replacement for regular tire inflation pressure maintenance. Under inflation, and/or overloaded tires, will create excessive stresses and heat build-up that can lead to tire disablement by a tread-belt separation and/or detachment, causing serious injury or death.

Take five minutes at the beginning of each month to check your tire pressures as it could save you many hours down the road. Don’t forget the spare tire as you want it to be reliable just in case you need it.

For further questions, check with your local General Tire dealer. Safe travels!

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