Collision and Maintenance Alignments are Not the same: WMABA’s Annual Meeting Recap

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

“Collision alignments are NOT maintenance.” That was the message shared by Steve Dawson (Hunter Engineering) as he discussed “Collision Alignments: Don’t Guess at What’s Bent, KNOW IT Before Teardown” during WMABA’s Annual Membership Dinner at Hunter Engineering Regional Training Center in Frederick, MD. He went on to explain “alignments can make a shop more effective.”

Every vehicle brought to an auto body shop should be placed on the alignment rack at least once during the repair process, according to Dawson, who acknowledged that, for many facilities, the biggest challenge lies in collecting payment. “When you have a car with many components, you feel like you can’t document everything you did. You think something is bent, but the insurance company is pushing back a little bit. There are ways to get that information, and we want to make sure everyone understands that, as well as some of the benefits that come from looking at an alignment as a collision repair shop as opposed to a general repair shop [that] performs a maintenance alignment. 

“But after a collision, there’s a significant amount of additional items that the OEM manufacturers are asking you to do to make that car similar to what it was when it came off the assembly line, so you’re bringing it back to its original condition,” Dawson pointed out. “But the insurance companies don’t necessarily look at it the same way; they think, ‘I can go down the street up here and grab an alignment for $89.99. That should be good.’ But that’s not bringing our car back to that OEM standard.”

In addition to insurers being more willing to pay a sublet bill for an alignment, a common reason Dawson hears for why collision shops don’t perform alignments in-house boils down to a lack of space; however, most shops have a frame machine, and “alignments can potentially be done in the same space as a frame machine,” he insisted, noting that subletting the procedure often leads to delays which shops “can control by performing their alignments in-house…you can even reduce cycle time by a couple days!”

Dawson identified the typical types of alignment: preventative (after new tires or worn part replacement), symptom (used when the steering wheel is off-center or the car pulls), performance (for lowering, raising and customizing) and collision, which is performed for a variety of reasons, including to identify bent and damaged components, position of new parts, structural changes, calibrations, electronic alignment, returning  the vehicle to its pre-accident condition, ride heights, wheel run out, tire condition, etc. 

“Collision alignments have a whole lot more involved,” Dawson emphasized, sharing that Hunter Engineering has created several reference guides to help shops understand the possible alignment needs of a car post-collision. Documentation is the key means of convincing bill payers to pay for these procedures, he reiterated, yet subletting alignments often yields a printout that leaves auto body shops uncertain about which component is bent. 

“You receive a report that ‘something is bent,’ so you get your measuring device out and start measuring. They basically tell you, ‘Something is wrong, but here’s no information to figure out what is bent,’ so you might replace 15 parts to figure out what’s wrong. It makes sense to know what’s wrong before getting started. A pre-alignment assessment is a critical piece in getting repairs done more efficiently.”

Performing a pre-alignment assessment at the beginning of the repair process allows shops to collect a lot of information. From there, it’s easier to “identify bent components, complete the repair process and then perform another alignment if needed,” Dawson said. 

“Almost every OEM requires an alignment be done on every vehicle that’s been in a collision,” he added, examining several manufacturers’ specific requirements. “We want to do things the way the OEM says they need to be done.”

Offering a glimpse at the feedback received from his company’s alignment equipment, he first demonstrated the amount of information acquired from the primary alignment angles report. “It’s not so obscure that you need to find a tech that knows it well. We have tools to teach anyone to use it well and read it as well as explain to adjusters exactly why something is needed,” Dawson advised, noting that more details are provided via the secondary measurements report which gives shops the ability to “provide insurance companies with the documentation to show unequivocally why we need to do the repair.

Dawson stressed the importance of documentation further, and as the most important basis for procedural justification with the bill payer. He shared his experiences with working with insurance professionals, and how shops could improve discussions of needed repairs with alignment readings and charts which clearly show where the problem lies. It even prevents repair delays with increased diagnostic accuracy, rather than guessing.

Dawson’s presentation took a technical bend as he explored the circumstances in which diagnostic measurements become necessary, explaining that the amount of ADAS in today’s vehicles creates additional alignment needs to prevent calibration issues. He again referred to the importance of documentation.

He outlined how readings of internal damage can prove necessary replacements, and with documentation in which an adjuster would be looking for. The ability to outline all necessary procedures related to alignments would then improve the shop processes and efficiencies. Shops who have good processes and higher efficiency tend to be more profitable as a by-product.

State of the Industry

Prior to Dawson’s presentation, WMABA Executive Director Jordan Hendler updated attendees on some of the association’s key initiatives, such as representing its membership at national meetings including the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) and SEMA, and stressed the value of WMABA’s affiliation with national organizations like the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). She lauded the benefits of SCRS’s 401(k) plan and health insurance which is “saving money for everyone who participates.” More information is available at

WMABA also sponsors the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG), where collision repairers can submit inquiries to the database providers about inaccurate times and missing operations, parts, numbers, procedures and more. Hendler encouraged repairers who notice discrepancies in the systems to file an inquiry with the DEG at

She also urged attendees to participate in WMABA’s 2024 Shop Rate Insurers Survey, describing the results as a “helpful way to see how insurers are behaving in our market which offers valuable insights to use during conversations with customers.”

Hendler explained how WMABA is seeking to alleviate the workforce shortage the industry is facing by working with schools like Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) and Center of Applied Technology North (CAT North). (See our feature on NVCC online at and the profile on CAT North at WMABA’s Education Committee is currently actively involved with these two schools and hoping to broaden its outreach in the near future. 

All collision repair professionals should add the Southeast Collision Conference (SCC) to their calendar, according to Hendler. Taking place May 16-18 in Greensboro, NC and featuring WMABA’s Collision P.R.E.P. educational experience, the show promises “a great experience, so make plans to attend.” (Flip to page 24 to get more details on the upcoming SCC 2024).

WMABA’s Annual Membership Dinner also included an opportunity for attendees to network while enjoying a meal provided by the association.

Make sure to sign up for membership in WMABA, to take advantage of being in the local – and national – repair community.

Want more? Check out the April 2024 issue of Hammer & Dolly!