Is nitrogen or air better for your tyres?
Updated 10 Oct 2019
The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of approximately 78% nitrogen. It’s a non-toxic gas that is odourless, colourless and tasteless, but is there any benefit to inflating your tyres with it instead of the standard compressed air we mostly use?
Aircraft, heavy-duty commercial vehicles and race cars all currently use nitrogen for their tyres. However, the common denominator here is that the tyres on these vehicles are constantly being used to their maximum capacity. Is there a benefit for your daily driver?
What are the benefits of nitrogen in tyres?
The tubes and liners of tyres have tiny pores through which air - that is the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in air - can pass. Over time, leads to a tyre losing pressure. That’s why, every now and then, we need to check tyre pressures at the servo.
However, nitrogen has, apparently, larger molecules than oxygen, which means it is harder for them to seep from the tyre. So, by using pure Nitrogen, a tyre should lose pressure more slowly.
Bear in mind that the tyre will still go flat, so using just nitrogen does not eliminate the need for tyre pressure checks. It only means the leak will happen slower than with compressed air.
Nitrogen is also said to have the benefit of reducing a tyre’s running temperature, which plays a part in increasing tyre life. However, daily driving and commuting probably won't see your tyres reach their maximum operating temperature, so the benefit here won’t really be obvious.
The same thing can be achieved with dry compressed air, as it’s not actually the nitrogen that causes this reduction in temperature, it’s the reduced moisture content of nitrogen over standard compressed air.
That reduced moisture content could also be a benefit when it comes to battling oxidisation as moisture and oxygen can cause metal components to become affected with rust.
For the most part, the benefits of nitrogen in tyres can primarily be experienced when you’re constantly pushing your tyres to the limit and putting them under a lot of stress, hence its application in racing, aircraft and commercial vehicles.
Another thing to consider is the fact that nitrogen isn’t free! Considering you can pull into any petrol station and pump up your tyres without spending a dime, shelling out around $8 per tyre for nitrogen for what is relatively little benefit doesn’t seem like a good deal. You’ll also have to make your way to a tyre dealer in order to source nitrogen, meaning that it’s both more expensive and more inconvenient than compressed air.
In short, if you’re the average road user who uses their car for commuting, weekend drives and any other kind of normal use, stick with compressed air. If you own a race team, maybe consider the nitrogen option for that bit of extra tyre performance.
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On weekdays Rowan can be found in the AutoGuru office, driving content and growth with the rest of the marketing team.
On weekends you’ll probably find him in the garage with his father restoring a 1958 Ford Star Model Customline or enjoying a cruise through the Gold Coast hinterland on his Suzuki GSX-R600.
Despite his passion for being behind the wheel (or handlebars), he looks forward to the day when he can commute to work in his own driverless car.