Surf any automobile tire-related website these days, and you’ll likely see something mentioned about nitrogen inflation. It’s becoming a hot topic. We’ve gotten a number of inquiries lately concerning American Honda’s position on this practice. When it comes to inflating automobile tires, it’s our position that ordinary, dry-compressed air — which is about 80% nitrogen already — is the best choice. That’s because it’s more readily available, and the benefits of using nitrogen simply don’t appear to outweigh those of using compressed air. The practice of inflating tires with nitrogen really isn’t anything new; it’s been around a long time. It’s been commonly used on aerospace vehicles, commercial and military aircraft, military vehicles, race cars, and even heavy off-road construction equipment. Here’s why:
- To meet rigid safety and performance specs, the required tire inflation pressures are often very high, especially in the aerospace industry. The tire inflation pressure for NASA’s space shuttle, for instance, is a whopping 315 psi!
- Nitrogen is an inert gas; it doesn’t combust or oxidize.
- The process used to compress nitrogen excludes water vapor. Water vapor can expand if the temperature climbs above 212 degrees Farenheit
When a tire is mounted on a rim the inside of the tire is full of ambient air, typically which has a high level of moisture or humidity in Ohio and the Midwest areas. Moisture is the big problem. You would need to vacuum out the ambient air and nitrogen fill the mounted tire, bleed out the mixed air and fill it again with nitrogen to have a proper nitrogen inflated tire.
- Although tires inflated with nitrogen leak slower over time than those inflated with compressed air, they still leak and need to be re-inflated periodically to maintain pressure. If you can’t find a place that offers nitrogen inflation — and there aren’t yet all that many places that do — your only option left is to re-inflate with compressed air. Doing that drops the nitrogen purity.
- Nitrogen offers no better protection against road hazards such as cuts and punctures. So no matter what you inflate the tire with, you still need to check the condition and pressure of the tires at least once a month as recommended in the owner’s manual.
- Tires that are inflated with compressed air and properly maintained offer the same fuel economy, tread wear, and ride comfort as those inflated with nitrogen.
So here’s the bottom line: Nitrogen is an ideal gas for inflating tires in aircraft, military vehicles, race cars, and heavy off-road equipment, but when it comes to automobile tires, it offers no apparent advantages over ordinary, dry-compressed air. Our advice to you: Just stick with the air you breathe!