Nitrogen or Air: What’s in Your Tires?

Dear Tracy,

I am considering inflating my tires with nitrogen instead of air. Can you tell me if there are benefits to using  nitrogen, or is it not that much different than air?

-Rick H.

Dear Rick,

According to the nitrogen proponents, benefits to choosing nitrogen over air include increased fuel economy, longer tire life, and improved handling.  Though the air ordinarily used to fill tires is 78% nitrogen, supposedly filling with pure (93% to 95%) nitrogen does make a difference.

Nitrogen is reported be less affected by outside temperatures and more reliable for maintaining tire pressure. Because nitrogen is supposed to do a better job of keeping pressure under hot and cold conditions, it can improve gas mileage, increase tire life, and is safer because tires are not as likely to blow-out at high speeds. Since nitrogen is dry and does not support combustion, it has long been used for aircraft and racing cars, which require tires to run extremely hot.

Another advantage advocates tout with nitrogen is that it is a dry gas, and as such reduces oxygen and moisture. The reason this is significant is because oxidation accelerates as the tires heat up, leading to  damage to the tire and wheel. The moisture in air increases oxidation and pressure fluctuation.

So, the question is, are these claims true? Some research suggests that while there may be advantages to nitrogen use, the tangible benefits tend to be modest.  Since you usually have to pay for nitrogen inflation, some feel the benefits are not worth the expense.

It is important to note that whether you choose air or nitrogen, the key is tire pressure. Checking and maintaining proper tire pressure will assure you of longer tire life, improved safety, and better gas mileage, whether you fill with nitrogen or regular air.

For the Love of Tire Advertising

I was recently looking for decorating ideas and thought that as a tire lover, it would be fun to frame some vintage tire ads. I found a really cool old tire ad board on Pinterest, that was a great place to start for ideas. I was amazed to learn from the ad pictured here that there is a “puncture fiend” who is actually to blame for tire damage.

Of course looking at these ads got me thinking about tire commercials. Some of my favorites include: Karma and the Beaver and The Frightened Squirrel. Proving that humor always makes for a great tire commercial, and these international ads promoting winter tires and the need for good traction gave me a chuckle.

Then there’s the classics. This “Discount Tire” ad invites customers to feel free to make a return.  And these old commercials combine sexism and a weirdly inappropriate level of drama to stress the importance of flat tire problems and long lasting tires. But my award for the strangest tire commercial ever must go to this Nancy Sinatra tribute.

Hope you enjoyed this fun bit of tire nostalgia!

Auto Theft Prevention

Heavy Duty Anti-Theft Tire Wheel Clamp LockDear Tracy,

As a college student who must park my car in some not-so-safe areas, I would like to invest in some kind of car security, beyond the alarm system it came with. What are the most reliable anti-theft devices that are currently on the market?

Anna F.

Dear Anna,

There are several options you can invest in to protect your car. Although there is no one device that is fail safe, any barriers that you can put between your car and thieves will help. If you choose a highly visible device, it may be enough to cause a thief to not choose your car, just to avoid a hassle. Depending on what kind of budget you have for this investment, you may want to try to do a combination of devices. Here are some of the auto theft protection options that are available:

VIN Etching

VIN etching puts your vehicle identification number onto several parts of your car, including in the windows for would be thieves to see. While this should be serve as a deterrent, it is also is helpful in recovering a stolen vehicle. VIN etching kits are available for purchase, or in some areas VIN etching services are provided. A quick online search will show you local options.

Tire and Wheel Locks

Similar in appearance to the boots used by law enforcement, these devices are instantly visible and make a car nearly impossible to move. These can be purchased online or from an automotive supply store. For those who are primarily concerned with protecting wheels, McGard offers a variety of wheel locks. These locks function like a regular lug nut, but require a special key tool for installation and removal.

Steering Wheel and Steering Column Locks

These are based on the same concept as the wheel lock boots , and offer the same visible message to would be thieves. The options range from fairly inexpensive locks that must be installed manually each time the driver leaves the car to more expensive options that can be installed permanently.

Kill Switches

A kill switch is a hidden switch that must be flipped in order to start the car. The effectiveness of this approach depends on how well the switch is hidden from the thieves, who probably know most places to look for them. If you opt for a kill switch, make sure installation will not affect your car’s warranty.

For more ideas for preventing auto theft, check out these suggestions from the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Protection Authority.

Back-to-School Safe Driving

The week following Labor Day weekend is traditionally recognized as back to school time. Even if you do not have kids in school, you can’t miss the myriad of school supply promotions, sales, and advertising. Another unmistakable indicator is the increased presence of those big yellow monsters on the road.  Though sharing the road with school buses can be somewhat of a nuisance, they do play an essential role in the safe transportation of children, so it is important to support them by knowing and obeying school bus traffic laws.

According to the National Safety Council, school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation for students. They warn, however, that more children are hurt or killed outside of the bus when they fail to watch where they are going, or when a motorist does not pay attention and illegally passes a stopped school bus.

The council offers the following points to remind drivers of school traffic safety laws and procedures:

  • In all 50 states it is illegal to pass a school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children.
  • In all 50 states traffic in both directions is required to stop on undivided roadways when students are being picked up and dropped off.
  • State laws vary on divided roadway requirements, however in all cases, vehicles driving behind the bus, and moving in the same direction must stop when the bus does.
  • Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate the bus driver is preparing to stop to load or unload passengers. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm signals that the bus has stopped and children are exiting or entering the bus.
  • A required distance of 10 feet around a school bus must be observed to allow sufficient space for children getting on or off the bus.
  • Be on the lookout for children who may run or fail to observe safety rules when moving to and from the bus stop.
  • Drivers should never block crosswalks when waiting to turn or stopped for a red light.
  • In school zones be alert for warning flashers, and while you are in an active zone, be sure to yield the right-of-way to students crossing in the marked crosswalk.

If you know your morning route includes an area with school bus stops, be sure to leave a little early so you won’t have to stress about delays. Take a few extra sips of coffee, and listen to another song or two. The most important thing is to make sure EVERYONE gets to their destination safely!