‘We shouldn’t have to wait years:’ Car owners left waiting for replacement of dangerous air bags

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KENOSHA -- They're supposed to keep you safe, but could actually put you in harm's way -- so why are some Wisconsin drivers being forced to wait years to have these potentially dangerous air bags replaced?

It's a question Betty Dennison of Kenosha asked after receiving a recall notice for her 2008 Ford Edge.

"I'm told nothing can be done," Dennison said.

Betty Dennison drives her 2008 Ford Edge.

Dennison sometimes feels like a taxi driver in her own car.

"Anyone that's gonna ride in my car now is supposed to sit in the back seat," Dennison said. "She lives with me, my mom, and everywhere we go, it's better for her to be in the front seat with me, and not in the back seat with the wheelchair."

Betty Dennison sits in the living room with her 91-year-old mother.

At the heart of the Takata air bag recall is the bag's inflator, which in some crashes has exploded violently, spraying metal shards into the passenger seat. At least 15 people have died and 100 people have been injured in connection with the air bags. As awful as these incidents are, they are considered rare.

Dennison says she started getting notices about the recall two years ago, but whenever she calls her Kenosha Ford dealer to scheduled her free replacement, she's told they don't have the parts.

Jim Tolkan, president of the Auto Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee discusses the Takta air bag recall with Contact 6's Jenna Sachs.

"I was just told, 'we can't help you at this point. Just keep calling,' and it looks like it's gonna be years," Dennison recalled.

"Unfortunately, the dealers have absolutely no control," explained Jim Tolkan, president of the Auto Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee.

Tolkan is not only familiar with what dealerships are facing, but also owns a car with a defective Takata air bag. 

"I just got my first notification several months ago," Tolkan said.

Tolkan says Dennison is far from alone. Within the last year, the size of the recall has tripled affecting many manufacturers.

The National High Traffic Association (NHTSA) has "ordered vehicle manufacturers to accelerate their remedy of defective Takata air bags."

Despite filing for bankruptcy, Takata has ramped up production to a million replace kits a month, but demand is high.

"There were new cars added as late as the middle of 2017," Tolkan revealed.

In the U.S., about 50 million air bags have been recalled.

Car manufacturers affected by the Takata air bag recall.

In Wisconsin alone, more than 578,000 air bags are affected with as many as 294,000 awaiting repair.

The NHTSA says vehicles are being prioritized based on the likelihood of danger. Factors include the age of your car and where you live.

This is due to the fact that there's a link between malfunctioning air bags and long-term exposure to heat and high humidity. It means vehicles in southern states tend to be a higher priority than those in the Midwest.

"The colder the climate, the less the humidity, the longer the wait will be," Tolkan explained.

Dennison expects to be waiting a good while longer.

"We shouldn't have to wait years," Dennison said.

FOX6's Contact 6 did reach out to Ford Motors, the makers of Dennison's car. The company sent the following statement:

"We are working with our suppliers to expedite parts as quickly as possible. The industry-wide Takata recalls have posed a lot of parts challenges for all automakers and Ford is working hard to make replacement inflators available to our customers as quickly as we can."

If you have received a recall notice, it doesn't mean your air bag is defective. Takata officials say tests show about 1% of these air bags rupture, which is still an unacceptably high percentage.