Auto Damage Appraiser

CAREER PROFILE
Duties: Appraises car damage to determine cost of repair for insurance claim settlement; tries to secure agreement with car repair shop on costs
Alternate Title(s): None
Salary Range: $27,410 to $60,470+
Employment Prospects: Good
Advancement Prospects: Good
Best Geographical Location(s): All parts of the country have good opportunities for Auto Damage Appraisers
Prerequisites:
Education or Training--Four year college degree or equivalent experience and industry coursework preferred
Experience--Auto body work and computer experience desirable
Special Skills and Personality Traits--Minimum of three years' experience in damage appraisals, experience with collision damage estimating, and estimating software experience
Licensure/Certification--Four states require auto damage appraisers to be licensed

CAREER LADDER
Auto Damage Claims Manager or Appraisal Firm Owner
Auto Damage Appraiser
Auto Damage Appraiser Trainee

Position Description
An Auto Damage Appraiser appraises car or other vehicle damage to determine how much the repair will cost for insurance claim settlement. The appraiser also tries to reach an agreement with the car repair shop on the cost of the repairs. The appraiser is an unbiased automotive specialist who can assess car damage and establish a fair cost of repair instead of relying on body shop estimates or estimates prepared by unqualified personnel. The appraiser prepares insurance forms to indicate repair cost or cost estimates and recommendations, and estimates of parts and labor to repair damage, using standard automotive labor and parts-cost manuals and knowledge of automotive repair. The appraiser reviews repair-cost estimates with the car repair shop and examines the damaged car to determine the extent of structural, body, mechanical, electrical, or interior damage.     
Auto Damage Appraisers usually are hired by insurance companies and independent adjusting firms to inspect car damage after an accident and to provide repair cost estimates. Auto Damage Appraisers are valued by insurance companies because they can provide an unbiased judgment of repair costs. Otherwise, the companies would have to rely on auto mechanic estimates, which might be unreasonably high.      
Many Auto Damage Appraisers are equipped with laptop computers, from which they can download the necessary forms and files from insurance company databases. Many appraisers also use digital cameras, which allow photographs of the damage to be sent to the company via the Internet or satellite. New software programs can give estimates of damage based on the information input directly into the computer, which allows for faster and more efficient processing of claims.      
The Auto Damage Appraiser examines the damaged vehicle to determine the extent of structural, body, mechanical, electrical, or interior damage. Next, the appraiser estimates the cost of labor and parts to repair or replace each damaged item, using standard car labor and parts cost manuals and knowledge of car repair. If repairs are not possible, the appraiser determines the salvage value on a total-loss vehicle. As part of this job, the appraiser evaluates whether it is more practical to repair the car or declare the car a loss and pay its market value before the accident.       
The Auto Damage Appraiser prepares insurance forms to indicate repair-cost estimates and recommendations, and reviews repair-cost estimates with the car repair shop to reach an agreement on the cost of repairs. Occasionally, the appraiser arranges to have the damage appraised by another appraiser to resolve a disagreement with a repair shop on repair costs.      
Auto Damage Appraisers assess car damage and make unbiased repair decisions based on the manufacturer's specifications, accepted industry procedures, and safety concerns. They have the expert knowledge to make these important decisions without favoritism toward the insurance company, auto body shop, or car owner.      
Auto Damage Appraisers often work outside the office, inspecting damaged automobiles, and new technology (such as laptop computers and cell phones) makes communication easier.

Salaries
Auto Damage Appraisers working for insurance companies tend to earn slightly higher average earnings than independent appraisers because they have a steady income. Average annual earnings of Auto Damage Appraisers are $42,630; ranging from a low of less than $27,410 to a high of more than $60,470.

Employment Prospects
Employment of Auto Damage Appraisers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many job openings also will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.      
Insurance companies and agents are selling more auto insurance policies, which eventually will lead to more claims being filed that will require the attention of an Auto Damage Appraiser. This occupation is not easily automated, because most appraisal jobs require an on-site inspection, but employment growth will be limited by industry downsizing and the implementation of new technology that is making the job of Auto Damage Appraiser more efficient.      
Insurance companies hire most of the appraisers, although insurance sales agents and brokers and independent adjusting and claims processing firms employ them as well. Two percent of appraisers are self-employed.

Advancement Prospects
Auto Damage Appraisers typically begin as auto body repair workers, and then move on and get jobs with insurance companies or independent adjusting firms. Like automotive body and related repairers and automotive service technicians, Auto Damage Appraisers must be familiar with the structure and functions of different automobiles and parts.      
Beginning appraisers work on small claims under the supervision of an experienced worker; they are promoted as they demonstrate competence in handling assignments and progress in their coursework. Trainees are promoted as they demonstrate competence in handling assignments; eventually, they may be promoted to claims approver or claims manager. Once they achieve a certain level of expertise, some Auto Damage Appraisers choose to start their own independent auto damage appraising firms.

Education and Training
Training and entry requirements vary widely for Auto Damage Appraisers, but a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience and industry coursework is preferred. No specific college major is recommended, but knowledge of computer applications also is extremely important. Appraisers usually need several years of work-related experience, on-the-job training, and/or vocational training. Some colleges offer an undergraduate program associated with Auto Damage Appraisers. Further education may also be required to pursue this career.     
Continuing education is very important because of the introduction of new car models and repair techniques. The Independent Automotive Damage Appraisers Association provides seminars and training sessions in different aspects of auto damage appraising.     
Some companies require applicants to pass a series of written aptitude tests designed to measure communication, analytical, and general mathematical skills. Appraisers should have an estimate system, a digital camera, and the ability to transmit the completed appraisal assignment by e-mail.  

Special Requirements
Some states require Auto Damage Appraisers to be licensed. Appraisers may become Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified by passing the ASE Damage Analysis and Estimating Certification exam. This test identifies those appraisers who possess the skills required to properly analyze and estimate automotive collision damage. The ASE Damage Analysis and Estimating test is intended for those professionals who may not actually repair cars but have the special knowledge needed to assess collision damage, estimate repair costs, and work with vehicle owners. The scored test consists of 50 questions that address damage analysis, estimating, legal and environmental practices, vehicle construction, vehicle systems knowledge, parts identification and source, and customer relations and sales skills. The ASE Damage Analysis and Estimating Test is offered every May and November at more than 700 test centers nationwide.      
To become ASE certified, an appraiser must pass the exam and present proof of two years of relevant work experience related to damage analysis and estimating (not handson collision repair). Appraisers may substitute two years of relevant formal training for up to one year of the work experience requirement. To remain certified, appraisers must be retested every five years. This requirement ensures AS Ecertified estimators are keeping up with changing technology.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Employers usually look for Auto Damage Appraisers who have a minimum of three years experience in claim-related physical damage appraisals and experience with collision damage estimating. Appraisers also should have experience with estimating software. Auto Damage Appraisers must have a good grasp of mathematics, clerical tasks, and accounting. They should also have a sound mechanical understanding of machines and tools, including repair and maintenance. They must also understand local laws, court procedures, government regulations, and agency rules.      
Appraisers must be honest, reliable, and able to follow guidelines and client instructions. In addition, appraisers must be able to complete damage appraisal and total loss assignments in a fast, efficient, and professional manner. Appraisers may need to help adjusters obtain police reports and help with scene investigations and canvass an area for witnesses.       
Like automotive body repairers and automotive service technicians and mechanics, Auto Damage Appraisers must be familiar with the structure and functions of different automobiles and parts. An appraiser must have a strong customer service orientation, attention to detail, and the ability to work independently. Strong oral and written communication skills and computer competency are a must.

Unions and Associations
Auto Damage Appraisers may belong to the Independent Automotive Damage Appraisers Association (www.iada.org).

Tips for Entry
1. Try to obtain skills by working on your own cars and by taking every relevant course available during high school or vocational school.
2. An internship or summer job at an insurance company can provide invaluable experience.
3. Check your college job placement service and work with them to land a position as an appraiser.
4. Visit the Web site of the Independent Automotive Damage Appraisers Association, which maintains a job placement service online.
5. Jobs may be advertised in the classified section of newspapers under headings such as ''Professional'' or ''General.''
6. Send your résumé and a cover letter to the personnel department of insurance companies in the locations where you would like to work.
7. Continue your education and try to get any certifications that you can, such as ASE certification.

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