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Could $500 make your car a whole lot safer?

If you drive a somewhat older car -- over, say five years old -- you're probably missing out on some very important safety improvements that have been put into place recently. The great news is, you can probably put together a pretty good package for your car aftermarket -- for about $500.

Claims Journal interviewed an automotive engineer from Consumer Reports recently to go over which of the new safety features are most important. As you may know, the NTSB has called for collision avoidance systems to be standard on all new cars, rather than optional features or only standard on higher-end vehicles. It's happening, but it will take some time.

That leaves you with the question of whether to upgrade your existing ride or to buy a newer one. How do the costs line up?

According to the engineer from Consumer Reports, getting a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system and blind spot monitoring on a new Nissan Altima SL, you're probably going to pay around $3,000 on options. That's on top of the $28,570 sticker price.

If you bought a two year-old Altima SL, you can get one with blind spot monitoring, a rear-facing camera and a lane departure warning system for about $20,000.

Assuming your existing car can take the modification, you should be able to get a forward collision monitoring system, a backup camera and blind spot monitoring for about $500.

An even less expensive option might be buying a new Toyota. The automaker is currently offering a package for some vehicles with forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems. The added cost? $300.

So, which features are the most important to have?

The engineer says that a forward collision warning system is probably the most important feature for safety. It won't keep you from hitting an object like automatic braking (which isn't available on the aftermarket), but it will chime in with a warning when you're about to run into trouble.

One note: The aftermarket packages do vary in quality. For members, Consumer Reports undoubtedly has a list of the best and worst ones. For others, be sure to do your research. Read reviews, talk to your mechanic and ask around.

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