Nitrogen vs Normal Air – What’s better for your vehicle’s tyres?

Nitrogen vs Normal Air - What's better for your vehicle's tyres?

Ever thought about the air that goes into your vehicle’s tyres? It would be like thinking about the material used to make those sneakers you wear. However, as much important as it is for you to know the material used to make your shoes, it is important for you to know the air going inside your vehicle’s tyres. In the case of the shoes you wear, if you know the material they are made out of, you would be able to take better care of them. On a similar note, if you know about what goes on inside your vehicle’s tyres, you can do a lot like maximising their lifespan. All it takes is understanding the air you fill them up with.

An ongoing debate is what we will pick up as our topic of discussion today. The topic is about the question as to whether you should fill your vehicle’s tyres with nitrogen or normal air. We will compare the advantages and disadvantages of both types and compare the outcome with related costs (in nitrogen’s case, there is).

Tyre Pressure Retention

If you ever head to a nitrogen-filling station, you will come across a board which claims that nitrogen-filled tyres are able to retain air pressure better than when filled with normal air. An organisation named Consumer Reports conducted a year-long research on various pairs of tyres by filling one of them up with nitrogen and the other with normal air and left them both outside in the open for a year. The finding was average loss of 2.2psi from initial setting for the nitrogen-filled tyre and 3.3psi for normal air-filled tyres. The difference may not be much, but converting it to real-world use, a nitrogen-filled tyre can go farther than normal air-filled tyre before needing a top-up. This will also lead to increased economy for nitrogen-filled tyres as opposed to normal air-filled tyres. However, the difference can be offset if you keep topping-off your vehicle’s tyres’ air pressure with normal air from time to time.

Cooler running temperature

Before you fall for this, remember one thing – while normal air being used to top off your vehicle’s tyres’ air pressure is pressurised atmospheric air, nitrogen is dry by nature. What this means is that normal air contains humidity which gets condensed into liquid when being stored in the tank and gets released when your vehicle’s tyres are topped up. When this water enters your vehicle’s tyres and heats up while you drive/ride around, it changes to gas and increases tyre’s air pressure. This leads to increase in the running temperature of the tyres, but an ExxonMobil research in 2008 pointed out that it is not as significant as to be called a game changer. So, no big advantage gained by opting for nitrogen.

Rim rot prevention

Believe it or not, many claimed normal air can cause a rim to rot while nitrogen, being dry as it is, does not lead to such a situation. Little do such people realise that we use steel wheels as bare minimum today and alloy wheels have already entered widespread use. What that means is that unless there is something gravely wrong with the rim, there is absolutely no chance of rim rot happening when using normal air.

Widespread availability issue

Nitrogen is still not widely available in India (try recalling two spots in just the metropolitan cities), so much so that you will find trouble locating the spots where you can find it. However, in the case of normal air, you can top-off your car’s tyres with this option at any fuel station across the country. Also, if you use portable car tyre inflator, the equipment also uses ambient air to fill the tyre than nitrogen.

So, when does nitrogen actually make a difference?

It depends on the application. When used on racetracks, due to its cool, inert nature, nitrogen is the preference. However, varied conditions of streets are good for normal air usage too. However, the one time you will see nitrogen making a big difference is in the rainy season as nitrogen-filled tyres tend to lose pressure much slowly. Also, using nitrogen means that text time you go to top up your vehicle’s tyres, you can look at a drop of 1-2psi as opposed to 3-6psi in case of normal air over the course of a month. Topping up nitrogen means an expense of Rs 10-20, depending on whether you are getting your vehicle’s tyres emptied and then filled with nitrogen or just topping them up. Ultimately, it is up to you to take a call on whether the benefits of using nitrogen offset the cost factor or not.

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