N2 the mystic

As you may remember, I’m driving on nitrogen-filled tires these days. Michael Martinek delves into the matter at The Truth About Cars, and here’s what he says is the bottom line:

Nitrogen’s advantages are solid (so to speak) — provided you’re a diligent motorist and nitrogen refills are free. Add some nonchalance and a dollar figure and the benefits evaporate.

I am, I think, fairly diligent: when the Screw Incident flattened one of my Dunlops, I had enough sense to bring out a real live air compressor and fill the thing enough to get it to roll to the tire shop without further damage. The tech said that it wouldn’t have occurred to most people, which may be true and which definitely is alarming. And apparently the practice on these things is to air them up — with real live air — and get the bead set, then to suck out the air and replace it with N2.

And there’s this:

[N]itrogen is still going to leave the inside of your tires for the big, wide world; just not as quickly as oxygen. A pound’s worth of gas might seep out in three months, rather than one. Meanwhile, the idea that nitrogen-stuffed tires are a fill-it-and-leave-it alternative to air is an inherently dangerous supposition. Drivers still need to get down, stick on a gauge and hear the hiss whether they’ve used air, nitrogen or cream filling. Nitrogen hype can end up doing more harm than good.

I think I’m covered: I keep a gauge handy, and I own two air compressors, a smaller one for on the road and something a bit more solid in the garage. The instructions I’ve been given tell me that in a pinch, I can pump some actual air into the tire, and then have it purged and refilled later.

Still, given the cost of air, which is essentially zilch unless you have to rely on that quarter-eater at the convenience store, nitrogen is going to be a tad more expensive.





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