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Are Claims About Nitrogen Tire Inflation Just Hot Air?

Megan Lynch @MLynchOnAir
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(WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty)

(WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty)

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ST. LOUIS,  Mo. (KMOX) – Race cars use pure nitrogen in their tires for better handling and other reasons.

Now tire shops are trying to sell it to improve your ride to work.

But is it worth the cost?

Proponents of nitrogen tire inflation say compressed air can contain moisture that may eventually damage tire components and your wheels.

Plus they argue the fatter nitrogen molecule has less change of escaping the material in tires so they claim it will improve your fuel economy and ride.

Websites advocating its use include testimonials from trucking companies who say nitrogen has saved hundreds of dollars a month for their fleets.

We asked the host of KMOX’s Auto Show Greg Damon, Manager of Sant Automotive in Crestwood, Missouri about the science of it.

“When your tires heat up, that pressure will sustain the same pressure equally verses compressed air which will fluctuate a little bit,” explains Damon, but he says he’s never seen real scientific evidence that’s it’s not going to leak out of your passenger tires at the same rate as regular air.

And while compressed air is free, by some reports nitrogen tire inflation can cost three, ten, and even thirty dollars per tire.

Damon says while high performance racers use it, for your commute every morning in the family car you’re probably not going to notice a difference.  “It’s not going to provide you with a better ride, it’s not going to provide you with better handling.”  And on another claim proponents of nitrogen tire inflation make, “and I think this is kind of comical.  There’s some folks that say you’re going to get better fuel economy because the nitrogen is actually a lighter gas than the oxygen, but if you kind of figure it all out, you’re talking less than an ounce for all four tires.”

When it comes to moisture in compressed air, Damon says many shops have equipment to remove most of it.

The bottom line for Damon:  “Is it worth it, does it provide you with benefits that you can see.  Probably not.”

Plus Damon says if your tires do lose pressure, you may not be able to find a shop immediately that can refill you with nitrogen, and you’ll have to pay to have them purged and refilled if you want nitrogen again.

 

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