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Nitrogen Vs. Air In Tires: 10 Differences

Nitrogen is slowly becoming more available at gas stations, but what are the differences, benefits, and costs of swapping a tire's air for nitrogen?

You must have seen nitrogen signs popping all over tire shops and fueling stations. One of the newest fads in towns, filling nitrogen into vehicle tires is becoming pretty popular with those who like to keep their cars completely up-to-date.

Of course, barely anyone knows what differences nitrogen makes to tires and ride-quality. Most tire shop dudes recommend it, and so most people simply get it done thanks to word of mouth.

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While that may not be a bad thing, it’s still good to have some knowledge about what goes on in your tires and the differences between nitrogen and air.

10 Nitrogen Pro: Stops Tire Pressure Loss

It’s so irritating to park your car for a couple of days and come back to find that the tire pressure has fallen below the driveable limit. While manual or electric air pumps are almost a standard fixture with any car, leaky tires still end up taking time and effort to refill.

The atom of nitrogen is bigger than that of oxygen (air). This means that as opposed to oxygen, a lesser amount of nitrogen can permeate through the tire rubber and escape into the atmosphere. This simply means that nitrogen-filled tires will have less air pressure loss.

9 Air Pro: Is More Convenient Overall

Air is available at every gas station, and cranking out air from those rusty air compressors isn’t a big deal. Nitrogen is more of a specialty and will not be found everywhere. You will need to find a tire shop that deals with nitrogen. They will deflate the tire and then refill it with nitrogen; furthermore, every time there is a tire pressure loss, you will need to go back to them for a refill.

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If you are traveling, nitrogen may become the holy grail. You may end up filling the tires with air, which will dilute the nitrogen, and make you go through the refilling process all over again.

8 Nitrogen Pro: Better Handling And Ride Quality

Unless you are a race car driver, or more of an automated machine than human – you may not realize the difference in handling in your newly-filled nitrogen tires. Racecar drivers do know the difference, which is why most race car tires are now filled exclusively with nitrogen.

Most of us may not realize the subtle differences between nitrogen and normal air-filled tires. But the difference is there and makes for longer-lasting tires, axles, and the whole suspension shebang. While it will not turn your beater into a sleeper, it will give you the best level of handling your vehicle is capable of.

7 Air Pro: Is Cheaper Because It's Free

Ultimately for many of us with a lack of deep pockets, it all boils down to money. There are places where it can cost $20-30 per tire for a nitrogen fill – which includes bleeding the air out and replacing the same with nitrogen. However, since the hoopla seems to have died down, nitrogen costs are coming down and are somewhere in the range of $5-15 per tire.

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This is so because the nitrogen-filling equipment costs a lot more than a rusty air compressor, and the tire shops guys are out there to have the quickest ROI they can. Plus unlike a self-filling air compressor, nitrogen air pumps need qualified staff to operate them – thus the higher costs.

6 Nitrogen Pro: Better Fuel Economy

Other than being kind to the suspension, increasing the life of the tires, and enjoying a comfortable ride quality – the right air pressure in your tires also comes with one more undeniable benefit: A better fuel economy. The correct tire pressure reduces rolling resistance and road friction. This makes driving smoother and lowers the need for power, so your car will give you the best fuel economy.

Nitrogen maintains the tire pressure better than air does, so keeping tires properly inflated becomes a breeze. Therefore, what you may spend on nitrogen you get doubly back by saving on gas. This is especially true if you are a bit lazy about filling in air.

5 Air Pro: Is Time Savvy

Time is money, quite literally, because many of us get paid by the hour. While refilling air in the tires to maintain tire pressure can eat up a bit of your day, nitrogen needs a far longer time investment. To get nitrogen in your tires, a technician will first have to bleed your tires of oxygen and then start filling in the nitrogen.

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They may have to do this a couple of times to make sure that your tires have only nitrogen in them for you to be able to reap the benefits – diluted nitrogen (with air) will not be as good or effective as pure nitrogen. This will cost you both time and money.

4 Nitrogen Pro: Longer-Lasting Tires

Nitrogen is pretty good for your car and the drive-and-ride quality as well. Plus, they also keep your tires in better health. When you fill a tire with air, there’s a bit of water vapor mixed in with it as well.

This water vapor heats up on hot days and ends up increasing the air pressure more than the required levels, causing your tires to wear out quicker. Nitrogen does not have water vapor in it, so heat and cold don’t alter the tire pressure all that much – this increases the life of your tires and also reduced daily stress-induced wear and tear on them.

3 Air Pro: Nitrogen May Not Always Be Best

Of course, despite all the happy things about nitrogen, there's no guarantee that filling in nitrogen means you will not need to check tire pressure at all. When temperatures start to drop, the tire pressure may fall a bit as nitrogen grows denser due to the cold.

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This means, now and then, you may need a nitrogen refill in your tires, though not as frequently as you would with an air refill at your gas station. Also, it all depends on how convenient a nitrogen-equipped tire shop is for you. If it is too far and out of the way, you may be better off with air after all.

2 Nitrogen Pro: All About Precision And Convenience

Perhaps the main comparison to nitrogen vs air is high octane fuel vs normal fuel. If your car can support high octane fuel, those extra bucks spend on the gas will make your car run better, more efficiently, and also save the engine from unnecessary stress.

Of course, if your car’s engine does not need high-octane fuel, it will not reap any benefits from being fed the pricey gas, and it's akin to you wasting your money. If you have a new car or at least new tires, then nitrogen may be a good bet for you. But if it proves too expensive and inconvenient, or you already have worn tires due for a change, stick to air for now.

1 Air Pro: Can Be Done At Home

Remember that unlike nitrogen, air does not come at a premium. It's free at gas stations and usually always available en route anywhere. While it is a bit irritating to keep refilling the air regularly, it is not inconvenient per se. Even if you are too lazy to stop at a gas station and do it yourself, there are plenty of electric or manual air pumps that not only check the tire pressure but also help you inflate or deflate to the right number.

Just remember to check what number you need to achieve, usually written on the tire pressure sticker usually found on the driver's door lock pillar, visible when you open the driver door.

NEXT: 10 Cars That Are Prone To Vehicle Fires

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