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What Does a Collision Estimator Do?

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Jan 24, 2020 ·

One of the perks of pursuing a career in the collision industry is the wide variety of paths you can take. Accidents happen on our roadways every day, and collision repair professionals are the ones we rely on to get our vehicles back up and running. From refinish technicians to electrical technicians, there are many different roles a collision repair technician can step into.

After completing your collision repair training1, one of the careers that may be available to you is becoming a collision estimator. If you have great customer service skills and are looking for a job where no two days are alike, this could be the career for you.

Keep reading to learn all about the career of a collision estimator, including job responsibilities, common work environments, how to become one and more.

What is a Collision Estimator?

Collision estimators, also known as auto estimators, lead customers through the process of getting their vehicle repaired after an accident. They act as the liaison between the customer, insurance company and parts vendors to ensure the repair process goes smoothly and is completed correctly.

When someone takes their car in for a repair after an accident, a collision estimator is often the first person they will come in contact with. The estimator will analyze the car, talk through the damage with the customer and will differentiate between the damage done to the car in the accident and prior condition of the vehicle.

A good estimator acknowledges that when customers come in with their damaged vehicle, it’s one of their worst days. This requires estimators to have empathy and strong communication skills as they work with the customer one-on-one to get them through a tough situation. It’s their role to be the voice of the company and demonstrate exceptional customer service skills every step of the way.  

Auto Body Estimator Job Description

  • Inspect vehicles for damages and evaluate using visual inspection, mechanical testing devices, road tests and information provided by the customer
  • Evaluate necessity and cost of repairs
  • Collect insurance estimates after reviewing damage
  • Meet with customers to discuss damages, repair process and timeline and costs
  • Create accurate estimates that detail repair and labor costs
  • Place work orders detailing part replacements and repairs and enter into work management system
  • Maintain communication with customer and be available to answer questions throughout the repair process
  • Keep record of repair details and complete necessary paperwork
  • Effectively manage multiple repairs simultaneously
  • Implement an effective quality check process by inspecting repaired vehicles and ensuring the repair is up to standard
  • Complete final paperwork and payment with customer
  • Provide exceptional customer service at all times and create ongoing relationships with customers 

Where Do Collision Estimators Work?

Collision estimators can work in a variety of environments. While their basic responsibilities may remain the same, their day-to-day tasks will vary slightly depending on their specific role. Several settings estimators work in include:

  • Automotive dealerships: In the dealership setting, estimators typically have a small office where they will meet with customers to discuss the vehicle damage and details of the accident.
  • Large independent body shops: Multiple shop operators (MSO’s), such as Service King and Caliber Collision, are another common place estimators work. This role is similar to that of an estimator in a dealership, yet in a body shop setting.
  • Insurance companies: Estimators can work for insurance companies, such as Geico and Nationwide. Sometimes, insurance companies will have a satellite station in a body shop that estimators will work from.
  • Independent adjuster: Auto claims adjusters often work for insurance companies and will spend their days inspecting damaged vehicles and working with clients regarding settlements. This may require them to travel to the site of the vehicle, where they can assess the damage and determine how much the insurance company should pay the customer for the cost of the repair.

Rewards & Challenges of This Career Path

As with most careers, there are both rewards and challenges that come with being a collision estimator. When it comes to rewards, estimators have great income potential. They typically receive a salary and can earn an additional commission based on their sales. There is a high demand for estimators, making job stability another benefit to this career path.

One of the challenging aspects of this career is how fast-paced it can be. Estimators are required to balance 10 to 15 repairs at a time, sometimes more, and must ensure they’re meeting the needs of each customer. According to David Sydnor, education manager for the Collision Repair program at UTI, this career can be challenging for those who don’t have the skills required to keep up with this type of work. “It takes a special person, but if you’re that special person, you can potentially make a very good career as an estimator,” he shares.

What Are the Skills Needed to Become an Estimator?

Collision estimators often share a similar set of skills that make them successful in their work. These include:

  • Communication & interpersonal skills: As an estimator, you are constantly working with people. Your customers will come from all different backgrounds and walks of life, and part of your job will be to build relationships with them and earn their trust. This requires strong communication skills and a desire to go above and beyond for your customers.
  • Ability to multitask: Estimators have to balance multiple repairs at once. They must be able to keep track of where each repair is at in the process and ensure they’re providing the best experience possible for the customer.
  • Good time management: Collision estimators keep a busy schedule. On any given day, you may have to meet with customers, put together an estimate and inspect a vehicle that was brought in for damage. Prioritizing tasks and managing your time well is essential to ensure each repair is moving through the process smoothly.
  • Critical thinking skills: No two crashes are the same. With every repair, estimators have to think critically and adjust their approach in order to find a solution. The work of an estimator is never mundane—there are always new challenges and opportunities to work on different types of projects.
  • Record keeping skills: Documentation is one of the core responsibilities of an estimator. From the first meeting with a customer to the final delivery of the repaired vehicle, estimators must keep a record of important details. This ensures that everyone involved in the repair, such as the technicians working on the vehicle and parts provider, are in the loop and know what needs to be done. It’s also the responsibility of the estimator to keep this documentation organized in case it ever needs to be referred back to in the future.

How to Become a Collision Estimator

Collision estimators are some of the most versatile professionals in the automotive industry. In addition to having an automotive background that allows them to perform inspections, they must know the pricing of parts in order to put together their estimates. They must also have great interpersonal skills, as they communicate with their customers directly on a day-to-day basis.

So how do you become a collision estimator? Companies look for different things when hiring estimators, but according to David, having a strong automotive background is key. “The best way to get into estimating is to take a collision repair program so you know about vehicle construction and all of the different principles,” he shares.

Taking a specialized program, such as UTI’s Collision Repair & Refinish Technology (CRRT) program, can provide you with the hands-on training needed to prepare for a career as an entry-level estimator. Developed in conjunction with I-CAR, the provider of collision repair training standards as defined by the industry, UTI’s curriculum is designed to provide students with the skills needed to reshape and restore a wide range of vehicles.

UTI students train with the tools, equipment and technology used in collision centers across the country. They learn valuable skills such as how to manipulate and shape metal using specialist custom equipment, how to repair plastic or composite materials using nitrogen welding equipment and more. Graduates also have the opportunity to earn valuable I-CAR certifications, which can increase their appeal to prospective employers.

In the program, students learn to write and read estimates just like they would in the industry. The principles they learn will complement their career as an estimator, such as knowing how damage moves through a vehicle.

Students can also take an estimating elective to gain specialized knowledge that gives them a leg up if this is the career they want to pursue. In addition to showing initiative to employers, this elective can decrease the amount of on-the-job training the student will need.

“Students will have a good foundation in estimating and the office and management side so they can hit the ground running fast,” David shares. “They will need less training from the company they’re hired with, so they can achieve things faster and make the company money quicker.”

What’s The Career Trajectory of a Collision Estimator?

One of the exciting things about becoming a collision estimator is the possibility to advance in the workplace. “Becoming a collision estimator is often seen as a stair step into management,” David shares.

When a shop is looking for new managers, they often look internally and will promote their estimators. The estimators who go above and beyond in their work are typically the ones who shine and are chosen for these positions. A skilled estimator may advance to assistant manager and move their way up into a shop manager role before they know it!

The Industry Needs Estimators

All in all, a career as a collision estimator is a fantastic choice for someone who is passionate about the automotive industry and loves working with people. This career isn’t going away anytime soon, and as the demand rises, so will the need for those skilled in the trade.

“The wrecking of cars is never going to go away, and there has to be someone there to greet those customers and give them excellent service and execute the repair process from start to finish,” David shares. The future looks bright for collision estimators, making now a great time to start your training!

Prepare for a Career in Collision Repair

Does a career in collision repair sound like the right fit for you? UTI’s Collision Repair & Refinish Technology (CRRT) program can provide you with the hands-on training you need to pursue a career in the industry. To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with an admissions representative today.

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