Nitrogen in Car Tires: Is it Worth the Extra Money?
It’s been decades since nitrogen gas was first used in place of good old-fashioned air to inflate the tires on a car. In the years since, nitrogen has been validated in motor racing and has more recently been offered to everyday motorists as a cost-added alternative to air when it’s time to inflate a tire.
Question is, is a nitrogen tire fill worth the added cost? Or is simple, proven and highly-effective air just as good? Let’s dig in.
Nitrogen vs regular air in tires - what's the difference?
Nitrogen is an inert gas that’s non-flammable. Straight-up nitrogen (which may be referred to as dry nitrogen or nitrogen air in the context of tire inflation), has been used in specialized applications for years thanks to its ability to resist tire inflation pressure changes caused by natural leakage or temperature fluctuations.
Remember: fluctuations in tire pressure are the enemy of tire life, safety, handling and performance, and the properties of nitrogen gas help resist these fluctuations.
Expect tire pressure with nitrogen air to last longer than regular air-filled tires
For instance, air filled tires lose pressure naturally at a rate of about 1 psi per month. Larger nitrogen molecules have a more difficult time ‘seeping’ through the tire, meaning that a nitrogen-filled tire loses pressure over time much more slowly.
Additionally, when using air, tire inflation pressures change with temperature and use. That’s because the air pressure in a tire reacts to temperature.
Nitrogen pressure, however, does not.
Its properties help eliminate these pressure fluctuations, and with the ability to maintain consistent tire pressure across a wide variety of use cases, including severe ones, nitrogen helps hard-working tires perform better and last longer. That’s why it’s commonly the fill of choice for tires on airplanes, race cars, mining equipment, emergency vehicles, fleet vehicles and the like.
Nitrogen is also considered a dry gas since it doesn’t retain water molecules. While filling your tires with air will typically introduce some potentially-undesirable moisture into the tire, filling with nitrogen keeps things dry as a bone.
Remember: nitrogen makes up nearly 80 percent of the air we breathe. Every time you inflate your tires with air, you’re inflating them with nitrogen, too—as well as moisture, oxygen and miscellaneous gasses.
What are the benefits of nitrogen-filled tires?
In the context of a passenger vehicle, the benefits of nitrogen-filled tires are largely in line with the benefits of regular tire checks and adjustments of the pressure of regular air-filled tires.
Mostly, it’s about reducing pressure fluctuations, and their negative effects. Since nitrogen makes it easier to keep your tires at their recommended inflation pressure more of the time, it can help ensure your tires last longer, perform better, and achieve optimal fuel or energy efficiency.
Some drivers also prefer nitrogen-filled tires for the reduced moisture content versus regular air, and possible effects on long-term tire life.
Can you mix nitrogen and air in tires?
Yes. Keeping your tires inflated to their ideal pressure as often as possible is key. Tires don’t care which they’re inflated with, and if you’re got low pressure in one or more tires, any combination of air and nitrogen can be used to pump things back up.
Remember: nitrogen is inert, meaning it won’t reach when mixed with air.
Where can you get nitrogen air for tires & how much does it cost?
Nitrogen is available at garages, tire shops, dealerships and other automotive service centers. If you’re set on a nitrogen fill for a new set of tires, most tire shops can accommodate. If you’re looking for your first nitrogen fill-up, do a quick search of your area to find the nearest location.
As a specialty product, nitrogen isn’t as easy to track down for a tire fill as straight-up air. Most gas stations and rest stops have an air pump accessible, but for a nitrogen fill, you’re likely going to a shop, tire retailer, or garage.
Remember, underinflated tires cost you money. If you have a low tire, don’t wait for a nitrogen fill to top it up. Air will work just fine.
Prices vary across Canada, with some shops charging up to $200 for a complete nitrogen upgrade, and others charging about $10 per tire for a complete nitrogen drain-and-fill.
In most parts of Canada, it’s not hard to find a location to fill or top off nitrogen filled tires. Many 30-minute oil-change franchises even offer nitrogen tire fills.
Verdict: are nitrogen air-filled tires really worth it?
In your tires, is nitrogen better than air? Sure, since you’ll experience slower natural leakage and tire pressure fluctuations over time. This will make your tires safer, more efficient, longer lasting and higher performing.
Incidentally, these are the exact same benefits of regularly checking and adjusting your tire pressures with regular air which is reliable, readily available, highly proven, and (importantly), much cheaper.
To conduct proper tire checks and maintenance, also read our article: Ultimate Guide to Tire Checks: Tread Depth, Air Pressure, and more.
The tires on your Mustang, Camry or Silverado are extremely unlikely to be exposed to the extremes of force, heat, and duty that necessitates the use of nitrogen in many severe-use applications.
Our suggestion? Save your money for a good tire pressure gauge and rechargeable air inflator. Unless you’re unable or uninterested in spending about 3 minutes a month checking and adjusting the air pressure in your tires, filling with nitrogen is probably a waste of money for most Canadian drivers.