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Would you like air in those tires, or nitrogen?

These days, more and more customers are asking for nitrogen, says Stanley Wells. The Get Nitrogen Institute points out that 11.7 million tires are filled with nitrogen, and 10,266 dealers are selling the gas.

"People from up north were bringing in their cars, and asking for nitrogen in their tires. And we didn't have it," said Wells, whose family owns Wells Dodge Chrysler in Avon Park.

So Wells purchased a machine that purges oxygen and moisture from the air and blows almost pure nitrogen into tires.

The Upside

The Get Nitrogen Institute and GoNitroTire.com tout these benefits:

•Tires stay inflated. Nitrogen molecules are three times bigger than oxygen, so gas escapes more slowly from the tire. This keeps the tire inflated longer at the correct level.

•Fuel economy improved. Nitrogen expands less than oxygen, so tire pressure doesn't go up and down as tires heat and cool. Underinflated tires reduce gas mileage.

•Tires and wheels last longer. Underinflated tires get hot and wear more quickly. And since there's less moisture inside the tire, rubber rots and steel rims rust more slowly.

•Vehicles handle better. Nitrogen is more common in 18-wheelers than passenger cars. NASCAR and Formula One drivers use nitro for better steering and performance. Aircraft tires are inflated with nitrogen or helium to minimize expansion and contraction from changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure during flight.

The Downside

If those claims seem inflated, there are some disadvantages.

Bloggers on Bargaineering.com suggest that these days tires just don't rot from the inside. And, some bloggers claimed, nitrogen tires can blow up. Scientists, blogging on the same Web site, disagreed: while nitrogen burns, it's a diatomic gas, mostly inert, and won't explode.

Consumer Reports tested one claim: that nitrogen-filled tires keep their pressure longer.

"The test started on Sept. 20, 2006 and the final measurements were taken on Sept. 20, 2007. The results show nitrogen does reduce pressure loss over time, but the reduction is only a 1.3 pounds per square inch difference from air-filled tires... More important, all tires lost air pressure ... Bottom line: Overall, consumers might enjoy the slight improvement in air retention, but it's not a substitute for regular inflation checks."

Even so, nitro-filled tires are commonplace on race cars.

"We use nitrogen because it's a cleaner air; there's no moisture in it," said crew chief Tommy Baldwin on Nascar.com. "Moisture builds heat, and when you use compressed air, there's a lot of water in the airlines and air systems, and when that water gets into the tire, it will expand the tire and puts heat into it, and will eventually cause a tire problem."

The Price

Price is the biggest drawback: some new car dealerships are inflating every new car tire with nitrogen and adding $100 to the sticker. Wells charges $50 for all five tires and wheels, but it's optional at his Dodge-Chrysler dealership.

On bargaineering.com, bloggers pointed out that the air consists of 78 percent nitrogen already. So paying $10 per tire for another 21 percent (most nitro tires contain at least 1 percent oxygen and other elements) doesn't seem practical.

"We've been doing it for several years," said Wells. "We don't do it on every car. We do it typically on trucks, but we're starting to do it more, as gas mileage is becoming more important."

"We don't charge for refills," Wells said. "If they buy their tires here, there's no charge. Buy it once, and they got it for life."

Nitrogen-filled tires usually have green valve stems or green caps, so the next mechanic will know.

Although the idea has been around for years, most Highlands County tire stores don't sell nitrogen. One reason why: the nitro machine costs about $10,000.

Has Wells recovered his cost yet?

"Probably not," he laughed. "But our customers keep asking

What has been your experience? For me I bought new tires for my Wife's Explorer ($700) and that was part of the deal. We have seen no benefits, so my NITRO has just plain old air in it's 20" tires!
LINK:Benefits Touted For Nitrogen-Filled Tires
 
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