The recent service bulletin issued by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) on the use of nitrogen to inflate tires on consumers' vehicles brings up a point all tire dealers should consider.
That is, the use of nitrogen in tires-and in a similar vein, the installation of tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) on vehicles-are no panacea against checking tire pressures on a regular basis.
Yes, they offer additional protection and warning against underinflated tires, which is a well-understood safety issue. But these systems and procedures are not infallible.
As a result, consumers still must check their tires on a regular basis to ensure that their tires remain inflated to optimum and safe levels.
Tire dealers and other retailers who offer nitrogen inflation and work on the new TPMS systems that are now mandatory on all new vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds would do their customers a favor by reviewing with them the strengths and limitations of these two safety systems.
That way, these vehicle owners would understand why they still must check the pressure in their tires often.
As the RMA warned in its service bulletin on nitrogen, ``depending on nitrogen alone to reduce the requirements for inflation maintenance may, in fact, lead to underinflated operation, which may result in premature failure.''
That's because the tire could develop a leak from any number of sources including punctures and poor fitments in the bead area and valve stems.
Should a leak occur, it would negate the effects of nitrogen as a result of the loss in inflation pressure but also, if the customer topped off the underinflated tire with air, by the dilution of the gas.
Benefits of nitrogen inflation include less pressure loss as the gas permeates through the tire more slowly than air, improved fuel economy, longer tread life and reduced wheel corrosion.
The issue with TPMS is similar. If all the tires lose air at the same rate over time, indirect pressure monitoring systems would fail to pick up the difference as they rely on the rotational speed of the tires to indicate a loss of pressure. TPMS units also send out warnings only when tire pressure has decreased by 25 percent or more from the vehicle's recommended air pressure.
This is not to minimize the benefits of nitrogen or TPMS. Both offer valuable and improved safety benefits for the driving public.
But they also can give the false impression that all is well, making vehicle owners even less inclined to check their tires than before.
That's why tire dealers should continue to remind customers to check their tires' inflation pressures regularly, even with these features.
Don't let them be lulled into a false sense of security.