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Nitrogen Inflation: Not Just a Bunch of Hot Air

That little, green-colored cap one might see on a valve stem is more than just an eye-catching covering. It’s an indicator that the tire has nitrogen fill. It may also include the “N2” emblem.

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Compared to standard compressed air, compressed nitrogen for tire inflation is generally between 93-99% pure nitrogen, with the rest comprised of a mixture of other gasses. Standard compressed air, like the air we breathe, is composed of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% a mixture of other gasses such as carbon dioxide.

So, what’s all the rage about nitrogen fill, and how much do your customers know about it?

For starters, nitrogen can help keep tires inflated longer, tire manufacturers say. That’s because nitrogen molecules are larger than oxygen molecules, making it more difficult for nitrogen to leak out of tires.

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According to the U.S. Department of Energy, under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3% for every 1 psi drop in pressure on all four tires. That’s a savings of about 11 cents per gallon, as indicated on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. Beyond the fuel savings, properly-inflated tires also last longer and perform better.

Nitrogen is also considered a “drier” gas compared to compressed air, making corrosion (aka “oxidation”) less likely to build up on your customers’ wheel finish or TPMS sensors, say industry experts.

Keeping tires at their proper inflation level longer with nitrogen fill is relatively cheap insurance, especially for customers who aren’t religious about preventive maintenance. However, customers might not be so convinced of its value or may baulk at the additional cost.

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“You have to sell it,” says Mark Rhodes, co-owner of Plaza Tire Service, a 67-store dealership based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, noting that most customers are typically not walking in and asking for nitrogen fill in their tires. 

Plaza Tire offers nitrogen inflation services in two-thirds of its locations and has been successful in selling it over the past 12 years. “What we do find is that if you take the time to explain it to customers, a very high percentage of them buy it,” explains Rhodes. “One main reason is when you talk about the fact that their [TPMS] display lights stay off.”

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Clayton Van Kleeck, owner of Van Kleeck’s Tire, a single-location dealership in Lake Katrine, New York, also offers nitrogen inflation and has been providing the service for over 15 years. “There is a small percentage of our customers who want it,” he says, noting that nitrogen fill is more popular with customers who purchase premium tires for their newer vehicles—and they actually ask for the service.”

Rhodes says he also promotes the impact nitrogen fill and proper inflation have on fuel economy and reduced tire wear.

“If your tire is the right size and inflated properly, then your tires’ rolling resistance is better. So that would produce better fuel economy,” he adds, noting that when gas prices went to $4 a gallon in 2008, it was the perfect storm for his dealership to begin offering nitrogen inflation. 

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Van Kleeck also weighs in on the importance of proper tire inflation. “Customers who request nitrogen appear to be people who pay closer attention to their tire pressure,” he says. “Nitrogen-filled tires do appear to maintain their pressure, with less variance with temperature change.”  

With all of these benefits and a cost of only $5 per tire for nitrogen fill at Plaza Tire, it would seem like a no-brainer for customers to take advantage of this service, but it has to be “top of mind” for both customers and employees, because “we sell so many things,” explains Rhodes. 

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“A lot of people in the tire industry don’t give it any credit or they’re selling so many other things at the time of a tire sale that it falls to the bottom of the list,” he continues. “But, when you take the time to actually explain it to a customer, you sell it 75% of the time, if not more.”

Van Kleeck chimes in about the value of educating the customer to make the sale: “We explain the benefits as simply as possible. We focus on the removal of oxygen in the generating of nitrogen.”

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Value-Added Service

At Plaza Tire, each location that offers nitrogen inflation has a nitrogen fill station setup, he says. A nitrogen generator produces the nitrogen and it’s then kept in separate tanks. During the nitrogen fill process, a few extra steps are taken to ensure the best results. “We inflate the tires with nitrogen, and then we deflate the tires, and then refill them with nitrogen again to get the appropriate percentage of nitrogen in the tire,” adds Rhodes.

With all of its benefits, nitrogen inflation can be seen as an additional profit center for dealers and one that will boost customer satisfaction with tire purchases. So much so, that Van Kleeck is considering the option to use only nitrogen to fill tires at some point as a value-added service. “The equipment and filters needed to make the nitrogen have been amortized and continue to work well.”

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This type of service pays for itself, adds Van Kleeck. “Our additional cost is not significant. We want to give our customers the best of all available services. If nitrogen enhances the life of a tire and the cost is minimal to us, we will provide it.”

Check out the rest of the November digital edition of Tire Review here.

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