I’m rerunning below the column I wrote last year about Nitrogen because it came to my attention that the Palm Beach County bus system, Palm Tran, was planning on investing over $80,000 for equipment to fill their bus’ tires with Nitrogen.
I wrote County Commissioner, Karen Marcus, an email explaining why this was a mistake and I sent her a copy of the column which you can read below, if you missed it last year. Below is a copy of my email:
Good morning, Mrs. Marcus,
Gary Todd, a friend of mine, told me this morning that Palm Tran had spent $65,000 on Nitrogen tire inflation systems purportedly to improve fuel economy and tire life in Palm Beach County buses.
I Googled the news article in last Friday’s PB Post and it gave as a reason for this decision to spend taxpayers’ money that “NASCAR and commercial and military aircraft” use Nitrogen in their tires.
NASCAR and commercial and military airplanes use Nitrogen in their tires for entirely different reasons than reducing tire wear and increasing fuel economy. Race cars and landing airplanes are subjected to extremely high temperatures never experienced in car or bus tires. Airplanes also experience extremes in atmospheric pressure which car and bus tires don’t.
I’ve attached a column that I wrote for the Hometown News last year, “Don’t Pay for Nitrogen in Your Tires”. I wrote this article to benefit those who might persuaded to pay for Nitrogen instead of free air [which is already 78% Nitrogen] to put in their tires. I even considered doing this for my customers at my Toyota dealerships and for my rental car fleet until I did some research on the pros and cons. I even bought canisters of Nitrogen and ran pure Nitrogen alternatively with air in my rental fleet for a period of time. The bottom line is that there is no measurable difference in fuel economy or tire wear with air v. s. Nitrogen.
Please read my article and feel free to call me to discuss this at any time. My cell number is 561 358-1474. I wouldn’t expect you to take my word for cancelling this expenditure, but if you instruct Palm Tran to conduct an actual test of fuel economy and tire wear with and without Nitrogen, I think they will come to the same conclusion as I.
There was an article in the October 25th Wall Street Journal which concluded that Nitrogen was of no useful, measurable benefits to fuel economy, safety, or tire life. It concluded that if the Nitrogen was free, no harm can result from using it.
CNN recently ran a story exposing the Nitrogen scam you can see the video clip on this story by clicking on http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2007/10/26/hunter.check.your.tires.cnn?iref=videosearch. The article discussed a study that Consumer Reports did on the effectiveness of Nitrogen in tires and interviewed the CR tester. Consumer Report filled a large number of tires of all makes and models, half with air and half with pure Nitrogen. After one year, there was only a 1.3 pound pressure difference in the tires filled with air and Nitrogen. The obvious conclusion was that Nitrogen for your tires is a waste of money.
Costco is often cited as a reason to buy Nitrogen for your tires. When you buy a set of tires from Costco, they fill the tires with Nitrogen free. When you bring your car back to Costco’s auto service center, they will top off your tires with Nitrogen for you free. I can understand Costco’s motive in this because I also operate an automotive service center and I also sell tires. All auto service center operators want to give their customers a good reason for bringing their cars back to them regularly for service. Why? Because we want to sell you more services. Need I say more?
Here's the original posting:
Don’t Pay for Nitrogen in Your Tires
It’s bad enough that gas stations now make you pay to inflate your own tires with air. But at least you are getting what you paid for…air which does what it’s supposed to do and that is to keep your tires inflated.
Many car dealers are now charging customers to fill their tires with “pure” nitrogen. They tell you that nitrogen does not leak from your tires as quickly as air and this means that your tires will stay properly inflated longer before you have to add more nitrogen (and pay the dealer for this). What the dealers don’t tell you is that the air that is already in your tires is mostly nitrogen anyway. In fact, 78% of the air you breathe is nitrogen. Oxygen represents only 12% of the air. The rest of air includes carbon dioxide and other inert gases. I’m not sure what the purity of the nitrogen is that they pump into your tires for $199 (this is not a typo…one hundred and ninety-nine dollars for filling four tires full of mainly air). But, you can be assured that the purity of the nitrogen is not 100% and is probably closer to the 78% that regular air consists of.
Even knowing all of the above, I have to admit that I was curious about whether or not nitrogen could prolong tire live and improve fuel economy because I knew that NASCAR drivers used nitrogen filled tires and I heard that Volvo’s came from the factory with nitrogen in their tires. I have a BS in Physics from the University of Florida and a Master of Science from Purdue and these kinds of things interest me. So, to find out for myself, my dealership conducted an experiment. We have a fleet of rental cars and we filled two tires of each car with pure nitrogen and 2 tires with regular air. Over the course of many weeks, we measured the pounds of inflation in the nitrogen and air filled tires. There was no difference in the inflations of the nitrogen v. s. the air filled tires. If there is no difference in the inflation, there can be no benefit from nitrogen of better gas mileage or fuel economy.
You may have read my column last week, “Beware the Phony Monroney”. In that column I warned you about car dealers that add a window sticker designed to look exactly like the federally mandated Monroney sticker. This is where you should look for dealer installed accessories and additional dealer markups over MSRP. Often these accessories have a high price but a very low cost. In the case of nitrogen in four tires selling for $199, this is exactly the case. Since air is already 78% nitrogen, it costs virtually nothing to extract nitrogen from the air. To be generous, let’s say the dealer’s cost is $10 including labor. That is a 2000% markup when he charges $199.
Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I actually saw window stickers on a car today from another dealer who had actually modified the Monroney label to show nitrogen filled tires. To do this, the dealer actually had to remove the real Monroney label, make the modification showing the nitrogen tires, and re-paste the Monroney label to the window. Federal law requires that a Monroney label not be removed until the vehicle is delivered to the customer. It also requires that it not be modified. This new vehicle was one we had traded for from another dealer and still had the counterfeit Monroney and the modified real Monroney attached to the window. The modified Monroney looked so authentic, that one of my technicians and my service manager inquired of Toyota about the necessity of our carrying nitrogen tanks so that we could refill these tires with Nitrogen. If this could fool a Toyota dealer’s technicians and service manager, it might fool you too.
This particular dealer also had another charge added to the counterfeit Monroney sticker, a $4,995.00 “Market Value Adjustment”. Most prospective customers think that this is part of the manufacturer’s recommended retail price. They either end up paying too much money for the vehicle or think they are getting more for their trade-in or a bigger discount than they really are. It’s easy to allow someone an extra $5,000 on their trade-in when you have already marked the car up an extra $5,000 over sticker price.