Earl Stewart is the owner and general manager of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach. The dealership is located at 1215 N. Federal Highway in Lake Park. Contact him at www.earlstewarttoyota.com, call (561) 358-1474, fax (561) 658-0746 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 which 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 percent of the air you breathe is nitrogen. Oxygen represents only 12 percent 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 $399 (this is not a typo...three hundred and ninety-nine dollars for filling four tires full of mainly air). Of course, this dealer tells you that he will "top off" your tires with nitrogen every time you bring your car back. The motive here is to get your car back into his service department.
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 Bachelor of Science 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 two 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 versus 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, "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 $399, this is exactly the case. Since air is already 78 percent 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 4,000 percent markup when he charges $399.
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.
If you doubt my opinion that Nitrogen in passenger car tires is a waste of money, Google "Consumer Reports and Nitrogen." Read their test of the effectiveness of Nitrogen vs. air in car or truck tires. They conducted the test over one year and tested almost every make of tires sold in the USA. Their conclusion was that there was absolutely no advantage to Nitrogen vs. air in gas mileage, tire wear, handling or anything else. This is because that, even though tires inflated with pure nitrogen lost inflation very slightly over time less, this was no advantage. It is no advantage because you should regularly check your tires for inflation, every 30 days is recommended. This is because you may have slow leak from a road hazard like a nail, defective tire, or bad seal between the wheel and the tire. Believing that you don't have to check your tires as often with nitrogen is not just untrue; it can be dangerous.
Lots of car dealers advertise cars at very low prices and when you come in to buy that car for the low price, they tell you have to buy it with their dealer-installed options. That's bait and switch advertising. One of their favorites is Nitrogen because it cost them virtually nothing. One dealer in Palm Beach County adds nitrogen for $399, floor mats for $299, and a dealer fee for $24.99 to the advertised price of all of his cars. What should you do if they say you have to pay an extra $725 on in addition to the advertise price? ...LEAVE!