Watching drag racing is a great way to pick up a little bit of insecurity over your own daily driver. You may be asking yourself, “Why can’t my car do wheelies?” as you watch the cars blow off nitrous at the starting line. Unfortunately, we’re here to bring you back from that fantasy, at least partially, as your Sentra isn’t going to lift off anytime soon.
Bummer, we know, but Car Bibles won’t let you down without building you back up. While you can’t buy a new car with nitrous installed from the factory, you could have a system installed if you were really dedicated to the cause. But before you start living your life a quarter-mile at a time, we need to lay down some basics on nitrous oxide for cars and why it’s not offered as a factory option.
Let’s talk about every enthusiast’s favorite laughing gas, nitrous oxide.
What Is Nitrous Oxide and How Does It Work?
If you’re familiar with The Fast & The Furious, you’ll remember that Brian O’Conner hit the nitrous oxide in his Mitsubishi Eclipse for an extra power boost in the film’s first race, right around the time he hit 19th gear. While dozens of upshifts and hundreds of people watching an illegal street race are improbable in the real world, the boost that came from the little red button isn’t all that far off from the truth.
As for how it works, we’ll let the pros at Holley give you the rundown, “Face it, chemistry is only fun for those who prefer to dine around the periodic table. For the rest of us, chemistry and all those confusing terms can be a bit intimidating. But bear with us as this geeky tech stuff has useful purposes. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a molecule consisting of two parts nitrogen and one part oxygen. If we squeeze it to a pressure of 760 psi, it will begin to transform from a gaseous form into a liquid. Now we have a much more dense and powerful form of nitrous.
The beauty of this gas is its one part oxygen. A common belief is that the atmosphere that we breathe is mostly oxygen, but the reality is that 78 percent of the air we breathe is really nitrogen and only 21 percent is oxygen with that last one percent a gaggle of other chemistries. This means that N2O contains significantly more oxygen per unit than our atmosphere.
This is important because oxygen is the oxidizer that supports combustion. Cover a candle with a glass jar and eventually the fire goes out due to a lack of oxygen. So if we combine the right ratio of fuel and air, squeeze it real tight and light it with a strong spark, we will have combustion. To enhance that normally-aspirated combustion process, we can inject a measured amount of N2O into the cylinders along with the proper ratio of additional gasoline, we can make a lot more power – hence nitrous’ nickname – chemical supercharging.”
Why Can’t I Buy A New Car With Nitrous?
You cannot walk into your local dealership and pick out a new car with nitrous, no matter how many shady deals you have working under the table. At some point, Saleen sold a Ford Focus with nitrous hardware included, but it wasn’t hooked up when the vehicle was sold, and doing so voided the warranty on a brand-new car.
A big reason for this is the fact that, in most states, it’s not legal to cruise down the highway with an open and active nitrous bottle. Beyond that, take a moment and think about the number of people you know who don’t regularly change the oil in their cars. Now, imagine those same people have access to a magic horsepower button in their cars and still won’t perform regular maintenance. No automaker that wants to stay in business is going to issue a warranty on a new, nitrous-blown car.
Don’t take our word for it. Holley’s Digital Content Manager, Evan Perkins, provided us with more details. He cites three main reasons for new cars not leaving the factory with nitrous installed.
Power and Torque Potential
“Nitrous is extremely proficient at making nearly instantaneous torque with power to match.
Increasing that power potential is as simple as upping the nitrous quantity. We’d have to imagine that the warranty department at any OEM wouldn’t be in favor of allowing enthusiasts easy access to a power bump so massive.”
High Pressure Storage
“Nitrous Oxide is stored in high-pressure tanks around 950psi when full. While these tanks all carry a certification to safely contain that pressure, it is not recommended that the tanks be left in hot environments that could cause pressure to spike to unsafe levels. From an OEM manufacturer’s perspective, this is not something you would want left in the trunk of a production car that sits in the baking sun of an asphalt parking lot while the owner is at work. There is also the issue of vehicle collisions where a high-pressure bottle full of an oxidizing agent is the last thing you want onboard.”
“While companies such as NOS offer nitrous controllers that are able to progressively deliver nitrous to prevent traction issues, many nitrous systems are simply on and off switches. This works great on a race track where the asphalt is prepped for maximum traction, however, on a public road where dirt, gravel, ice, water, or a number of other unknowns exist, such a rapid onset of power and torque could easily spell disaster.”
Car Bible’s Glossary for Nitrous
Welcome to Bible school!
Wet vs. Dry Nitrous
Nitrous systems come in various sizes, shapes, and applications.
In a dry nitrous system, the vehicle’s existing fuel system is used to deliver extra fuel. The nitrous nozzle only supplies nitrous oxide and no additional fuel is added at that point, hence the “dry” name. Wet nitrous systems provide additional fuel with a separate fuel pump, which delivers the fuel through the same nozzle as the nitrous.
In cooler weather, bottle warmers are used to increase the temperature of the nitrous tank for better pressure and delivery.
When a nitrous system is installed and tuned, it will deliver enough gas to generate a specified amount of horsepower. Shot is the slang term that is used to describe the horsepower boost, so 50 shot is 50 horsepower, and so on.
NOS is not a term for nitrous oxide. It stands for Nitrous Oxide Systems, which is a company that makes nitrous systems and accessories for cars.
A bottle is the container that carries the nitrous oxide in a car, and gets its name because of its shape.
Forced induction refers to an engine with a turbo or supercharger installed. These engines typically respond well to nitrous oxide, as the system helps compensate for turbo lag and nitrous helps cool intake air.
The Car Bibles Questionnaire
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!
Q: Can I Install Nitrous On Any Car?
A: Yes. Nitrous tuning companies have professed that a kit exists for every production vehicle on sale today, so yes, it’s theoretically possible to add nitrous to mom’s Chrysler Pacifica.
Q: Do I Have To Have A Manual Gearbox?
A: Nope! Nitrous works just as well in vehicles with automatic transmissions.
Q: Will Nitrous Kill My Engine?
A: If the system is properly installed and properly used, the risk of damage is not astronomical. There’s always a chance for chaos when you’re adding extra power and fiddling with a vehicle’s fuel system, but a well-installed nitrous system minimizes that risk.
Q: Is Nitrous Oxide a Fire Hazard?
A: Nitrous itself isn’t flammable, but it will accelerate an already burning fire. This becomes an issue only when the vehicle is in a wreck and catches fire, and a properly installed system will include safety gear. Just make sure you know how to use it.
Video on Nitrous
Car Bible’s Favorite Nitrous Related Products
Getting big power from your car’s engine is big fun, but you’ll need to perform regular maintenance to keep things running smoothly. Car Bibles’ editors have gathered a few of their favorite products to get you started down the right path. They include the NOS Blue 10-pound bottle, Mechanix Gloves, and Pro-Lift Jack Stands.
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