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Get rolling with the pure nitrogen fix – Metro US

Get rolling with the pure nitrogen fix

You might be putting nitrogen on your back lawn, but are you installing it in your tires? Don’t tell me you’re still going with air? Come on people, air is so last century.

The compressed air normally injected into tires contains about 78 per cent nitrogen, 21 per cent oxygen, and one per cent other gases. Going with 100 per cent nitrogen gives you several theoretical benefits.

One, unlike oxygen, nitrogen is lazy. It doesn’t attack rubber like oxygen does over time, and it stays in the tire, much like a middle-aged, neutered and de-clawed cat prefers to stay in the house. The theory is that nitrogen molecules are fatter than nitrogen molecules, and so are less apt to (eventually) wiggle through rubber membranes and/or slip through gaps in the rim/tire seal.

Two, nitrogen contains absolutely no moisture, which can sometimes make up as much as five per cent of compressed air. Moisture can lead to rust in steel wheels. The absence of moisture also means nitrogen expands and contracts less in extreme temperatures, for more consistent tire pressures.

Finally, nitrogen is not combustible, like oxygen, which is why nitrogen is used in aircraft tires. This is probably not so big a benefit to the average car driver — if the rubber on your tire is about to catch fire, because, well, the rest of the car is on fire, then you probably have bigger things to worry about.

But add all those things up and you can see why nitrogen is literally and figuratively displacing air as the preferred gas for tire inflation. Hey, all the Formula 1 teams use it, and so can you.

It’s available at most tire suppliers, for about 10 bucks a tire. Some vendors even throw it into the deal, when you pony up for new rubber.

Last fall, when I took our family car in to have the summer tires swapped for winter tires, the tech casually asked if I wanted the nitrogen experience. I said, “Give it to me, man.” He grabbed a hose and made like he was going to stick it in my mouth. Funny guy. Then he hooked it up to the valve stem of the front left tire. The nitrogen unit sucked all the “regular air” out, then pumped nitrogen back in. The transfusion on all four tires took less than 10 minutes.

Then he fitted the cool fluorescent green stem caps, which announce to the world that the tires are now filled with something better than air. Even though I felt a little pang for air, which I have a soft spot for (it has served me well, in so many ways, for so many years), I drove off with the satisfaction of making one, small, modern move.

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

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