Which Estimator Jobs Are Right For You? Comparing Collision Estimator, Adjuster, and Appraiser

There are a lot of different auto damage estimator jobs, but which is a good fit for you?

In this article, we’ll compare three roles you can get work writing auto damage estimates and their pros and cons. That way you can decide which career path is the right path to pursue.

3 Estimator Jobs You Can Choose

The 3 estimator jobs and roles that we’ll be looking at are,

These are the starting estimator jobs for someone that is new to writing auto damage estimates.

Let’s first breakdown the different roles and the differences between them.

Collision Estimator

A collision estimator writes auto damage repair estimates while employed by an auto body repair shop.

Their primary roles are,

  • Inspecting: Inspecting the damaged vehicles, writing damage notes, taking photos and talking with the vehicle owner.
  • Estimating: Estimating: Determining the cost of damages by inputting their observations into an auto damage estimating software like CCC One, Audatex (Qapter), or Mitchell.
  • Selling: Convincing the owner to get the vehicle repaired at their shop
  • Communicating: Staying in touch with the auto body repair technicians, vehicle owner, & insurance company adjusters or appraisers

Insurance Company Adjuster and Auto Damage Appraiser

These estimator jobs and roles are similar but have a few differences.

Both an insurance company adjuster and auto damage appraiser are employed by the insurance company.

They both can have some of the same responsibilities,

  • Scheduling: Setting up appointments to inspect damaged vehicles
  • Inspecting: Inspecting the damaged vehicles, writing damage notes, taking photos and talking with the vehicle owner and/or auto body repair shop.
  • Estimating: Determining the cost of damages by inputting their observations into an auto damage estimating software like CCC One, Audatex, or Mitchell.
  • Communicating: Staying in touch with the vehicle owner, repair shop, lawyers, and any other insurance adjusters/appraisers that are involved in the file through adding notes in the companies claim management system.
  • Settlement: Writing a check on behalf of the insurance company to the vehicle owner for the damages to the vehicle. (adjusters)

Now some insurance company adjusters do NOT go out into the field to inspect the damaged vehicle. They will either hire an independent insurance adjuster or independent auto damage appraiser or send out a company adjuster or appraiser to handle the inspection and estimate writing portion.

I often refer to these adjusters as, desk adjusters. You will also hear them referred to as in-house adjusters.

The Difference Between an Insurance Company Adjuster and Auto Damage Appraiser

Many people are confused about the difference between these two estimating jobs, adjuster and appraiser.

Let’s try to clear this up.

An auto damage appraiser is focused on the cost of the damages and the vehicle’s value. They are in the field looking at the vehicle.

An adjuster will settle the claim, meaning write the check to the vehicle owner. They can do this based on their own estimate and assessment or based on the report from the auto damage appraiser or the collision estimator at the repair shop.

Typically, you could explain the difference this way,

“The appraiser writes the estimates, the adjuster writes the check.”

But an adjuster can also do the estimate themselves, but they are called a Field Adjuster and will handle all the roles including settlement.

Independent Adjuster and Independent Auto Damage Appraiser

The last of the estimator jobs I’d like to shine light on is the independent adjuster and independent auto damage appraiser.

These perform the same roles as an insurance company adjuster or appraiser, but are are not employed by the insurance company.

They are contracted by the insurance company to handle certain aspects of the claim on their behalf. Independent insurance adjusters and appraisers are business owners that work for multiple insurance companies.

This work is often provided through IA Firms or TPA’s (third party administrators). These are regional or nationwide networks of independent adjusters and appraisers that make the dispatching of claims easier for the insurance company. Instead of having to track down an individual adjuster or appraiser in Rapid City South Dakota and Columbia South Carolina, the desk adjuster can assign it to a TPA or IA Firm that has coverage nationwide. They handle the recruiting, and dispatching of a file to the independent.

Easiest way to understand the IA Firm and TPA relationships with an independent adjuster or appraiser is by looking at the ride sharing model of Uber.

A rider needs a driver to pick them up and take them from the airport to their hotel. Instead of looking for a local taxi driver, they open up their app and ask Uber to find them one. Their relationship is with Uber, not the driver.

The same is with independent adjusting firms and TPA’s and the individual appraisers and adjusters.

The insurance company needs an independent appraiser or adjuster to inspect a damaged vehicle. Instead of looking for a local one, they send the claim to an IA Firm or TPA who finds one for them. The insurance carriers relationships is with the IA Firm, not the independent adjuster or appraiser.

Public Adjuster or Appraiser

Another role that some independent adjusters and appraisers can fulfill is that of a public adjuster and appraiser.

Public adjusters are self-employed like an independent adjuster or appraisers, but public adjusters represent the vehicle owner and not the insurance company.

Now that we understand the different estimator jobs and roles that are available to you, let’s look at the pros and cons of each by looking at the different aspects of these careers.

Salary of the Different Estimator Jobs


Each of these estimator jobs earn a good income, but each have different pay structures and advantages in how they are paid.

I’ll give an average based on other websites and a range based on my own research and experience.

Collision estimator salary is $77,500 per year average. ($45,000 – $125,000)

Insurance company adjuster salary average is $61,851 per year. ($35,000 – $80,000)

Independent adjuster salary average is $110,672 per year.  ($20,000 – $200,000)

As you can see the salaries vary a lot and this is because of experience and location.

Also, independent adjusters and independent auto damage appraisers are business owners and are not guaranteed to make anything. In turn they have a very high earning potential.

On the other hand, a collision estimator and insurance company adjuster or appraiser are earning a salary, which provides stability but caps their earning potential.

Now that we know the average and total income potential for each of the estimator jobs, let’s look at the structure of each of their income.

Pay Structure of the Different Estimator Jobs

Each estimator job is paid in different ways. Let’s quickly look at each one.

Collision estimators are paid either hourly, a salary, or as salary plus commission. Their commission is on how many repairs their oversee or how much the shop as a whole is able to repair in a given time.

Insurance company adjusters and appraisers are paid a salary. Some have bonuses available, but this is not as common.

Independent insurance adjusters and independent auto damage appraisers are paid on a per claim basis. Sometimes they get contracted to earn on a per day or per hour basis, but this is not as common. You’ll typically see the per day pay structure available for catastrophic independent adjusters on deployment. Independent adjusters typically earn $60-$85 on a standard auto file and can earn $200-$500 on commercial auto inspections. These higher paying claims are for inspecting things like heavy equipment, semi truck and trailer, RV, etc.

Benefits Package of the Different Estimator Jobs

Collision estimators and insurance company adjusters and appraisers receive company benefits like health insurance, 401k, etc. This increases the overall compensation package.

Independent adjusters and appraisers will have to purchase their own health insurance because they do not receive those benefits as a business owner.

Work Environment of the Different Estimator Jobs

The work environment for estimators varies significantly across different roles, which can greatly influence your job satisfaction and daily routine.

Collision Estimator: Typically based in repair shops, collision estimators enjoy a more relaxed, team-oriented atmosphere. The camaraderie among colleagues can make for a fulfilling work environment. While some shops may have a corporate feel, the nature of the work often keeps the environment more casual and hands-on.

Insurance Company Adjusters and Appraisers: These professionals can either work in an office setting as desk adjusters or operate in the field for on-site evaluations. Post-COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in remote work opportunities for desk adjusters, although traditionally, this role involved working from a cubicle within an office setting. Field adjusters and appraisers often report remotely and are usually on the move.

Independent Adjusters and Appraisers: Working predominantly from home or a personal office, independent adjusters and appraisers enjoy the most flexibility. They set their own schedules, balancing work with personal life. However, this autonomy doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours; many find themselves working extended hours, especially when managing their business during peak periods. Their work often involves significant travel between inspection sites.

Working Hours for Different Estimator Jobs

Understanding the typical working hours for each role can help you decide which job aligns best with your lifestyle and career goals.

Working Hours of a Collision Estimator

The hours are usually set at 8-6. These are the normal business hours of the auto repair shop, which typically operate from morning to evening on weekdays. Some shops may also require weekend hours depending on their customer flow and workload.

Working Hours for Insurance Company Adjusters and Appraisers

For those in the office, standard office hours apply. Field adjusters may have more irregular hours, needing to visit sites early in the morning or late in the evening, especially during high claim periods. Desk adjusters working remotely may have some flexibility but are generally expected to adhere to typical office hours.

Working Hours for Independent Adjusters and Appraisers

These professionals often work the longest and most irregular hours, especially during catastrophic events when they may work from early morning till late at night, seven days a week. Outside of such events, they have the flexibility to set their schedules but must balance this with the demand for their services, which can mean many hours spent traveling to and from assignments.

Career Progression for the Different Estimator Jobs


Let’s talk about the career progression for each of these estimator roles. It is rare that someone stay in the same role forever. Each of these roles prepares someone for working in each of the other roles to some degree. You’ve got to have estimator training before you can get any of these jobs, but once you do where you can go has a lot of variation.

I’ve seen people go from one to the other. My own mentor began as a body shop repair technician and eventually became a collision estimator, body shop manager, body shop owner, then independent auto damage appraiser, and eventually an independent adjuster.

Other than moving from one role to another, let’s look at the different opportunities within each.

Career Progression for Collision Estimators

Collision estimators can turn into body shop managers or shop owners. They may also shift from working at a major MSO (multiple shop organization) chain to an independent or higher production shop so they can increase their earnings.

Career Progression for Insurance Company Adjusters and Appraisers

Insurance company adjusters and auto damage appraisers can move into increased responsibilities and different roles at the insurance company. There are a lot of different types of adjusters including liability, bodily injury, commercial auto, marine, etc.

Career Progression of Independent Adjusters and Appraisers

Let’s look at the different independent adjuster jobs.

The starting point for those wanting to become independent adjusters and appraisers is often becoming an independent auto damage appraiser. From there they can become a commercial auto (heavy equipment) appraiser, a fully licensing auto adjuster, and move onto residential, catastrophic, commercial, RV, crop, marine, liability, etc. It is normal for an independent adjuster or appraiser to niche down into what they enjoy the most.

Geographic Factors for Each of the Estimator Jobs

Where you are at in the country can affect how many opportunities you have with each of these estimator jobs.

Let’s look at each one and how location might impact you.

Geographic Factors of Getting a Collision Estimator Job

Good news is that collision estimators are needed nationwide.

It doesn’t matter which state you live in, but you will need to be close enough to a decent size city that can support an auto damage repair center. It doesn’t need to be metropolis, but 30,000+ population is probably needed.

I had a student recently that graduated and had to commute 30 minutes to Bentonville Arkansas for interviews and work. You may have to drive some distance to get to work depending on how remote live.

Geographic Factors of Getting an Insurance Company Adjuster Job

Insurance companies tend to hire staff or company adjusters in major cities.

In North Carolina, my home state, I often saw insurance company adjuster jobs in Raleigh, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro, or Greenville, but rarely anywhere else. This mean there could be up to a 2-hour drive from where you live, if you had to work in office. Also if you are in the field the company will only hire an employee when they have a lot of claims and need for someone to inspect the vehicles.

This further solidifies that major cities have the best shot at getting the insurance adjuster jobs.

Geographic Factors of Getting Independent Adjuster or Independent Auto Adjuster Jobs

Because you are starting a business, you can start a business wherever you want.

Claim volume does make your life easier, but while you’d like living in a major city like Orlando would be the ticket to the easy life, that is not always true. Independent adjusters tends to be more popular and as a result more competitive in the southern United States.

From Texas – Georgia and Florida is the “adjuster belt.” This is where the most licensed adjusters are. The further you get away from the adjuster belt the less the competition tends to be.

Industry Tends for Each of the Estimator Jobs

The world has changed quickly, but what are the industry trends for these different auto damage estimating roles?

There has been a huge need for more collision estimators for 15+ years. That trend shows no sign of dying down.

Technology has impacted the role some. Apps and digital estimator software has made the job more accessible and easier to learn. AI will likely have some impact, as will it on every industry, but at this point there is no replacement for a collision estimator overseeing the repairs in sight. Exterior damage estimation will likely be the biggest use case for AI in the future, but the communication part of the estimator role and repair planning will still be needed. The desperate need for more estimators is making companies pursue this more and more.

I have observed more remote estimator possibilities. This is when a shop does not have an estimator on site and uses an individual to take photos and the estimator writes it off of the photos. Watch for this to become more and more common.

The insurance carriers go through phases.

For a certain period of time they’ll lay off many of their adjusters and then 3 years later hire a lot more back. It’s cyclical, but hard to predict. During the Covid pandemic was a major downsizing and 4 years later some insurance companies are staffing back up, while others are reporting a 6% reduction in their adjusting staff.

AI, technology, will affect roles in future, particularly with chat bots becoming more and more common and accepted.

That being said the insurance company only sells one thing, the promise that the adjuster will be there if a claim or loss happens. It’ll be hard for technology to remove the adjuster from the claim process.

For the past 4 years, post Covid, the independent adjusting and appraising world has seen great growth.

This has slowed and possibly even reversed at the end of 2023 into 2024. This corresponds with the insurance companies hiring more of their own internal adjusters.

Some areas of the country continue to see an increase in volume while other IA’s have reported a loss of volume.

The biggest thing to remember about being an independent adjuster or appraiser is to work for a lot of different companies. As the work shifts around this allows you to be flexible and shift to where the work is.

Also diversify the types of claims you handle. Don’t just handle only auto or only residential property claims. Diversify, handle auto, residential property, heavy equipment, RV, marine, desk, field, etc.

The more diverse you are in your skillsets the less any technologic and AI improvements will affect you.

Overall, the trend of the industry for the past few years is leaning towards “more AI and IA.”

How to Get Started With Your Estimator Job

First, decide which of these estimating jobs are right for you.

  • Collision estimator
  • Insurance company adjuster
  • Independent adjuster or auto damage appraiser

If you aren’t sure you can take the “My Auto Damage Estimating Career Report.”

We’ll ask you a series of questions and then give you a customized report based on your responses that lets you know which career seems to be the best fit for you, your circumstances, and situation. Plus we provide you with what steps you can take to begin that career.

Once you decide the right estimating career path, you can enroll in our auto damage mentorship program that trains you, certifies you, and our career placement assists you with getting work in the industry. We also provide ongoing estimate writing support for 1 year as a part of our mentorship program.

Customized Report
Find Out Which Career is Right For You