You’ve been doing more of it than you know of, and in public too. A disgruntled look on your face makes it look ever so silly.
The conversation began this morning about Nitrogen filled tires. I’ve noticed a majority of vehicles on the road are using nitrogen tires, or at least faking the funk with green valve stem caps. This idea of improved tire performance is not just silly, it’s over the top salesmanship. The advantages of nitrogen proposed are true, less chance of leakage since apparently the molecules are large than oxygen so the gas is generally thicker, but also that nitrogen doesn’t expand and contract as much during temperature change. I refuse to argue these points, they are true, what I will argue is the degree of truth. The need just wasn’t there, an air filled tire really only performs differently on a barely measurable amount. There never has been a need for the replacement of Oxygen with Nitrogen….from a customers perspective.
I can’t comment from a shops perspective, I don’t pay anyone to mount my tires for me, but I’m curious to how the price of service changes during the switch. Oxygen is free, it’s all around us and regular everyday people have plenty of tools to compress it and transfer it where needed. It’s been that way for a long time. Nitrogen however, is just not easily accessible to everyone at any moment. As a shop you’d definitely need a delivery and storage of this gas to distribute to customers tires, so there must be a cost involved. So a tire change has gone from $20, to $22 as an example, no biggy right? Well, let’s say your tire does leak, bad valve stem, dent in the rim, or a pin hole in the tire. There’s bound to be tire leaks even with Nitrogen, you want to refill that tire? It’s not recommended to use air to top it up. So off to the tire shop you go to use some of their stock of nitrogen.
So what does this have to do with the title? Well, for those of us still using the free air around us, that well, does the same job nearly identically, Nitrogen affects us. Those who use this tire service, and request air, are most likely still paying the price for Nitrogen. It’s not likely a separate charge, but rather a consideration that a majority of customers will not care about the extra charge, or what their tires are inflated with, so it’s just worked into the general price. No biggy really right? Let’s consider this slow leak, nail or screw in the tire, let’s just go throw some air in the tire at the gas station.
Gas stations have changed over the years, about 5 years ago free air refills became that of a minority. Charities began scooping up the air machines and putting a charge of anywhere from 5cents to 25 cents. No biggy right? It’s great to help charity, there’s plenty of people having trouble in the world that need help. And although it’s a bit backwards to take some that’s free, make it cost something then give some of the money back to those who needed things to be free to begin with. Eventually, though, the percentage of those pay air machines became privately owned rather than charitable. As of now, the majority of air machines are privately owned and cost 50 cents. What’s 50 cents to make sure my tires wear evenly, retain good gas mileage and expected handling?
It’s not much to throw some coins in the machine and get those tires up to pressure again. So what’s this big rant about then? What does this have to do with the title? You’ve been doing it all yourself and paying to do so. In the Early days of the automobile self service gas stations were non-existent. Where ever you went someone greeted you with a smile to serve you your fuel. This service was not limited to refueling, other great services came with this, checking the oil and other under hood fluids, washing the windows and lights, checking pressures and filling tires, cleaning garbage and fetching snacks. This was all no extra charge to the cost of your 30 cents per liter.
Over time the price of fuel out grew inflation, people dealt with it, the obsession with the automobile is too great. As this price gouging continued people’s need for a relief from this grew. Eventually small amounts of gas stations began to open offering slightly cheaper fuel if you pumped it yourself. The service attendants were removed and all their tools remained for you to use yourself, it was up to your amount of effort to get all these gas station services done well if you knew how to do it or not. The popularity of these stations began to increase rather quickly. In the late 90’s I worked one of my first jobs at one of the last full serve gas stations in the area. We did everything, including small repairs on some of the vehicles! It was a Petro Canada full serve station at about 55 cents a liter, oddly enough down the road was another Petro Canada, but a self serve location. They offered fuel a few cents cheaper.
11 years has past, and there are no full serve stations left, gone, dead like the dinosaurs and vegetation you pump into your car. Prices of fuel continue to rise and now at locally $1.12 per liter. The air costs 50 cents to fill your tire and often the garbage cans are full and the wash buckets dry. Cars run around on under inflated tires, almost no one checking the oil, radiator, auto trans fluid, washer fluid, cleaning the windows, checking if the lights work, seeing if the trailer is still properly connected or any other visible problems. You wanted your fuel a few cents cheaper, but what no one realized is that without full service stations, self service stations would never have a discount. The lack of a full service station has completely destroyed the purpose of the self serve station.
So what does this have to do with Nitrogen. Nitrogen was introduced at a small cost to help lazy people make sure their tire pressures were slightly more reliable. Their safety depends on the reliability, the condition of their vehicle. If full serve stations were still around, there would be someone monitoring each and every car as they come for fuel, keeping an eye on the condition of the vehicles, and giving people a full service automotive BJ, rather than giving themselves half assed, angry handjobs.