Do you have a preference for traditional air pressure or nitrogen when filling your heavy truck tires? Both gases are acceptable for tire inflation, but what’s the real advantage of using nitrogen? Apart from better fuel economy, proponents list a smoother ride plus longer tire life as distinguishing benefits.
Compressed air is prevalently used to fill tires. This air typically comprises 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and about 1% trace elements, including water vapor, CO2, Neon & Argon.
Not many drivers are aware of the option of filling their tires with pure nitrogen. So, let’s explore some of the compelling reasons for this new trend.
Over time, small amounts of air leak out of truck tires. While this is a regular occurrence, this concern is more significant when the tires are subject to sizable temperature swings.
For every 10-degree shift in ambient temperature, there’s a corresponding change (approx. one psi) in tire inflation pressure. Such changes apply to both nitrogen and air-inflated truck tires.
Since the walls of the tires are moderately porous, this means when it gets hot, the air inside the tires expands. Such added pressure forces minute amounts of air out of the tires through the pores.
For the above reason, drivers need to top off their truck tires periodically, even in the absence of a tire puncture. But here’s the thing, nitrogen-filled tires don’t lose tire pressure as rapidly as air-filled tires. Because the nitrogen molecules are slightly larger than the average air molecules, it’s harder for the particles to leak out.
Bottom line: A tire filled with nitrogen retains air pressure longer. The good news for fleet administrators is that maintaining ideal air pressure contributes to optimum fuel economy (reducing one of the biggest costs), plus longer tire life.
Advocates of nitrogen in tires also claim it minimizes tire “rot” by cutting off moisture commonly present inside tires as well as oxidation of the rubber. Nitrogen-filled tires can avert corrosion of the wheel too, as a result of contact with moisture.
But here’s the catch, you’ll probably have to schedule checks and top-offs of nitrogen every other month to keep within the right inflation margins. As such, it’s possible you might spend more on nitrogen than you’d save on fuel and tread-life.
All said and done, you’re probably better off planning for regular tire maintenance as part of your routine. Nitrogen is no substitute for preventive, conventional tire care and maintenance.
One final note, proper inflation pressure plays an instrumental role in road safety and a truck’s performance. This is an excellent reminder that checking the tire pressure several times a month is a crucial routine for your fleets’ efficiency and safety, regardless of what’s inside the tires.