Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A "Gas" Choice For Mileage? ... Hint, Not Fiber-Based

A motorist uses a gauge to check air pressure in a tire. Image Credit: Associated Press

With the increase in fuel prices at the pump, many consumers are looking for alternatives and additives that might decrease the impact on one's wallet.

People have recommended FlexFuel automobiles that use petroleum based gasoline and can fill up with E85 ethanol (a fuel made from fiber and corn based chemical conversion). However, many have found that the strengths of this strategy lay primarily with the fact that our country would become less dependent on foreign sources of oil ... not increased mileage performance.

The single most reliable "Gas" change one can make may just be in how one chooses to inflate the tires on one's car.

It turns out that nitrogen gas, as opposed to the air we breathe, is a more stable substance to cushion our ride. Nitrogen is impacted less with the changes in tire/road temperatures, compression due to the addition of load weight (as in loading up the back of a pick-up truck), and can deliver an additional mile to two miles per gallon in the distance traveled.

The teams that operate race cars at NASCAR, IndyCar, and ChampCar have known about the beneficial and competitive properties of nitrogen gas for some time now.

Excerpts from AP via the Washington Times -

Nitrogen a gas for better mileage
By David Sharp - ASSOCIATED PRESS - August 1, 2006

TOPSHAM, Maine -- Many motorists seeking to improve their mileage as gas prices soar this summer are examining everything, right down to the air in their tires. And for a growing number, plain old air isn't good enough.

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Nitrogen has been used for years in the tires of race cars, large commercial trucks, aircraft and even the space shuttle.

But it is finding its way into the mainstream at a growing number of tire dealers, including Costco Wholesale Corp. and its Washington-area stores.

Nationwide, fewer than 10 percent of tire dealers offer nitrogen, but the number is growing, said Bob Ulrich, editor of Modern Tire Dealer magazine in Akron, Ohio. Most dealers charge $2 to $5 per tire for the nitrogen fill-up, he said. The dealers generally offer free lifetime refills.

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Skeptics will question how much can be gained by filling tires with pure nitrogen when air is 78 percent nitrogen.

The differences are subtle, but important, said Steve McGrath, Tire Warehouse's vice president of marketing in Keene, N.H.

Nitrogen molecules are bigger than oxygen molecules, so nitrogen seeps out more slowly from tires than air. Nitrogen also resists heat buildup better than air, which contains moisture, and it reduces oxidation, which can damage the tire from the inside out, proponents say. Nitrogen is an inert gas, so there are no safety or environmental issues.

Those advantages are important in vehicles equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems, which are sensitive to changes in tire pressure, Mr. McGrath said.

With or without nitrogen, proper inflation is the key to improving gas mileage. Motorists can improve gas mileage by 3.3 percent simply by keeping their tires properly inflated, according to the Department of Energy.
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no opinion on nitrogen, but it does encourage motorists to keep their tires properly inflated, both for safety and to boost gas mileage, said spokesman Rae Tyson. Severely underinflated tires are dangerous, especially for sport utility vehicles and light trucks.
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For Mr. Bourque, his tire pressure remains constant -- 40 pounds for his fully loaded truck -- even on hot days, when tire pressure normally fluctuates.

His gas mileage was about 19 mpg when he bought his 2005 Chevrolet Colorado. Now, with the engine broken in and new tires filled with nitrogen, he gets 20.5 to 22 mpg, depending on whether he runs the air conditioner, he said.

For tire dealers, the nitrogen generator and associated equipment typically run between $3,000 and $12,000, Mr. Ulrich said.

Marty Mailhot, manager of the Tire Warehouse in Topsham, Maine, said the idea is catching on with consumers, who are buying nitrogen for tires for cars, trucks, motor homes and lawn tractors. He has even tried it on footballs and inflatable tubes pulled behind boats.

He has a retort for those who pooh-pooh the notion of paying for nitrogen when there's plenty of free air for the taking.

"I say, 'Why are you drinking that bottled water when there's a pond out back?' " he said.

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