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Today, it is common for customers to fill rubber automobile tires with compressed air due to its affordability and accessibility. However, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, “is this the best approach to inflate our tires?” Compressed air consists of about 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. So, what accounts for the remaining 1% of compressed air? The answer: water vapor and miscellaneous” gases. In practical terms, these amount to contaminants (yikes!). It can be rather time-consuming and costly to purify compressed air and it is typically not done for tire inflation. This leaves customers to wonder how the contaminated the compressed air really is, and how it might affect the tires.

“Oxygen can absorb moisture from the environment and also inside your tires, which can lead to oxidative degradation of the rubber!”

Another hidden culprit in compressed air that can damage tires is oxygen. Although oxygen is important for us humans to live and breathe, oxygen is not good for rubber tires. Oxygen can absorb moisture from the environment and also inside your tires, which can lead to oxidative degradation of the rubber! This accelerates aging of the rubber tire and can also cause rust on the steel belt found in wheels, leading to wheel corrosion.

To avoid these issues, a better alternative strategy to maintain the longevity of tires is to use nitrogen, a dry inert gas, instead of compressed air. Nitrogen inertion not only avoids the contaminants in compressed air but the nitrogen in tires can also help to maintain more consistent tire pressures. Importantly, nitrogen does not retain moisture inside the tire like oxygen does, which can eliminate the problems associated with water vapor. In the long-run, this will increase fuel economy, and, importantly, reduce costs associated with maintenance and replacement of tires. Now, who doesn’t want that?

Post Author: Stacy Chin Ph.D.

Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry from Boston University. Special emphasis in biochemistry, biomaterials, polymer synthesis, and translational research. She has many articles published in high impact peer review journals.

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