When checking tyres has you seeing red

 I have a guilty secret. For no good reason, I never can seem to find the time to check my tyre pressure. I know full well that it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways of increasing fuel efficiency and improving tyre life and handling.

What really puts me off this tyre pressure checking stuff is that it’s such a dirty business. The road grime on valve caps is one thing, but the grease on service station pressure gauges and air hoses is quite another. It’s that kind of sticky black grease that only Solvol, a nail brush and elbow grease can remove.

So, to cut to the chase. There I was at a tyre dealer last month, about to have my car fitted with four new tyres. That’s a big investment in anyone’s books. After discussing the pros and cons of this tyre and that, I finally decided on the ones that offer “improved fuel efficiency, superior wet weather braking and added durability”. Deal done. Or so I thought.

Then Tyre Man hit me with the upsell. “For a few extra dollars, love, we can inflate your tyres with nitrogen,” he says. “Did you know nitrogen is used in jet planes and racing cars?” I smiled on cue, you know the kind of weak smile that means “No, I don’t want fries with that”. But before I could escape, Tyre Man brought in the big guns. “If you go for nitrogen, love, you won’t have to check your tyres for six months.” Now he had my interest – and shortly he had my money. All $30 more of it.

For a few extra dollars, love, we can inflate your tyres with nitrogen”

Two hours later, I was driving away on four new tyres, each equipped with a nifty red valve cap to indicate that I’d joined the Nitrogen Inflation Club. When I got home I decided to do the research I should’ve done before I signed up for the NIC. Shades of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, but still good to be informed, don’t you think?

First stop was the RACQ website. “Using nitrogen does not remove or reduce the need to check tyre pressures as the risk of a puncture or slow leak is not altered”. Talk about taking the wind out of a girl’s sails. I felt like a becalmed super maxi on Boxing Day. But the RACQ left the cruellest blow for last. “Overall, while accepting the possibility of purified nitrogen being of benefit in certain applications, we don’t think that the cost and possible inconvenience are justified for normal passenger car use.”

My money had just gone up in smoke – or nitrogen. So is nitrogen inflation just a load of hot air? Only time will tell but I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Meantime, I find myself spotting those red caps wherever I go.

Postscript: My beloved husband, Mr C, who has his own compressor and tyre pressure gauge, checks the tyre pressure on my car every month in keeping with RACQ recommendations. Thanks, Darling.

According to the RACQ advocates of nitrogen inflation claim it:

Reduces the tyre’s running temperature
• Improves the ride quality
•  Increases tyre life
•  Keeps tyre pressures more constant
• Slows the rate of pressure loss
• Doesn’t react with the tyre and rim materials

So far so good.

On the downside, however, the RACQ urges motorists to weigh up the disadvantages, which they say are cost, maintenance and availability. Nitrogen cost me a grand total of $30 for four tyres. Because I bought my tyres from a national chain with a girl’s name, that price includes free top ups of nitrogen for the life of the tyres.

As to maintenance, once you go with nitrogen you need to stick to it to reap the ongoing benefits. But in an emergency, you can top up your tyres with ordinary air. After all, ordinary air is about 78 per cent nitrogen anyway.

The major downside, in my view, is availability. The local tyre dealer in my home town of 5000 people told me nitrogen is “something we’ll look at getting down the track”. For now, I have to drive 55 kilometres to the nearest city to get my free nitrogen fix.

So before you trade your black valve caps for red, do some research on the availability of nitrogen in your locale. If you’re planning to travel to more remote areas of this wide brown land, you can add a cylinder of nitrogen to your emergency supplies. This, though, is an option for only the most dedicated.