Avoiding Car Maintenance Trip falls – Oil-Changes, Tune Ups, and Tire Rotation/Balancing


Car maintenance implies perpetual expenses. Chief among them is the 3000-mile oil change. Going by the manual of our primary car, five-year-old Honda CRV, the oil change is due only every 10,000 miles. There is a lot of debate on this topic as to what should be the best preventive maintenance plan. We diligently followed the book for the last 60,000 miles without problems. The last time around, we took the car for an oil change, at a place where they combined the oil-change with a full-service-hand-wash for a grand total of $39.99. Minutes after acquainting with the automobile the mechanic came to us with his marketing cap on. His suggestion was that we do three changes, as the oil that came out was extremely dark:
  • Oil Change,
  • Air Filter ($29.99), and
  • Oil Flush ($99.99)
We did clarify whether Oil Flush translated to changing the transmission fluid and it was explained to us that this new service flushed out all the deposits that may have accumulated – the gullible us could only conjure up yes. Needless to say the grand total amounted to $200 including taxes – a figure we did not even see in our mind's eye when we took the vehicle in for an oil change. There is also a lot of discussion on whether such a flush is ever necessary and whether it would do more harm than good. Having read up on what actually is done with an oil flush after the fact, we are steering clear of it in the future. Since the mechanic said the oil was dark this time around, we are instead going to increase the frequency of our oil changes to every 5,000-mile as opposed to the factory recommended 10,000-mile interval.

Tune-ups are another potential money drain. Although advertisements push the 15,000-mile “minor” tune-ups (close to $100) and the 30,000-mile “major” tune-ups (close to $400), interestingly enough the vehicle manuals do not mention the need for such services. Here again, we are more comfortable going by the manual recommendations (fluids, spark plugs, etc.) and these services add up to a lot less money overall.

Tire rotation and balancing every 7500 miles is considered a standard for most cars. This along with puncture fixes can add up significantly over the course of the life of the tires. Most places routinely charge around $10 per tire for rotation, $15 per tire for balancing, and $20 for puncture fixes. While the service itself is necessary as both the service people as well as the car manufacturers generally agree on Tire rotation and balancing intervals, the costs can be minimized or even eliminated – Life time rotations, balancing, and puncture fixes are included for free with the purchase of new tires in certain retail outlets such as Costco.

Last Updated: 03/2010.

Angel Island, CA Trip Report/Review


Angel Island is the largest island in the San Francisco bay and is accessible by private boats or commercial ferries. Several ferries namely Tiburon Ferry, San Francisco Ferry (Blue and Gold Fleet), and Alameda-Oakland Ferry run regular service. We last visited in 2008 and used the Alameda-Oakland Ferry, which had a stopover and change of ferries at Pier 41 en-route to the island. The return was a short 30-minute ride straight to Alameda. Tickets were $14 for adults and $8.50 for children between 5 and 12. For a day-trip the ferry options were limited to – departure at 9:10 AM from Alameda (9:00 AM from Oakland) and arrival at Angel Island at 10:10 AM after the changeover at Pier 41. The ferry back was at 3:10 PM and it reached Alameda at 3:45 PM (3:55 PM in Oakland). The San Francisco ferry tickets could not be applied towards the purchase of these tickets.

Once in the island, options abound on how to spend the day. We chose the 5-mile hike to the summit of Mount Livermore. The entire hike was roughly three hours inclusive of the time it took to consume the packed picnic lunch at one of the four picnic tables at the summit. The scary moment was when a snake slithered across our trail. Our older kid was the valiant leader until then. After that the kids did not vie to be the leader at all, they were only too content to be in the middle. The views are outstanding and even in the summer a light jacket is a must as it is windy at the summit. One other popular option is taking bikes in the ferry and doing the perimeter route. That allows for going around the island and visiting historical sites. The visitor center at Ayala Cove offers two informative videos about the island. We are unsure on how much of the history the kids absorbed, but the videos are thought provoking.


The Angel Island Cove Café was the enterprise running the following other entertainment options in the island along with the café: a) Segway tours - $65 for two but special pricing as low as $35 for two people are available at certain times, b) Tram-tour - $13.50 adults and $9.50 Juniors, 5 and under free, and c) Bike rentals - $10 per hour or $35 whole day. Camping was another option – the less appealing part of it was the two mile hike with camping equipment. The sites were basic and reservations had to be made through reserveamerica website. Facilities for mooring private boats and kayaking options were also available.

The Angel Island day-trip was a great experience for both our kids and us. There was a lot more to do in the island than could be done in a single day-trip.

Last Updated: 02/2011.

Trina Solar (TSL) – Outlook

As of December 31, 2007, Trina’s total R&D employee count stands at 41 with nearly all of them engaged in optimizing their existing solar module production value chain. That number translates to slightly more than 1% of their total employee count of 3487, which is exceptionally low. Trina needs to look into alternative technologies that have higher barriers to entry for competition – Specifically, investments in thin-film and other second and third generation solar technologies should payoff in the long run.

Trina’s investor relations and its relationship with Wall Street in particular need improvement. Specifically, there is a real lack of response from their investor relations department. Further, from listening to the Q1 2008 conference call, it is evident that Trina Solar needs to improve their effort to ensure these calls are conducted in a professional manner. This problem is not isolated entirely to Trina – LDK fared worse in their conference calls as discussed in one of our previous articles. Ultimately, as a US listed company, Trina needs to shore up their investor relations in the US to guarantee that their shareholders are treated right.

Below is a table that looks at Trina’s financials:



















Year2007 (as reported)2008 (Projected)2009 (Projected)
Revenue$301.82M783.79M1.24B
Earnings Per Share1.513.144.18
Year Over Year (YOY) PE growth rate6810833
Net Margin11.7NANA


Trina is trading at just 1.3 times 2008-projected revenue and 10 times earnings. When considering the backdrop of 100% growth, the valuation looks very attractive. Further, it is at the rear end among valuations for Chinese solar manufacturers. Heading the spectrum is Suntech power (STP), which is valued at 3 times revenue and 20 times earnings. Such discrepancies are primarily due to market inefficiencies and over time should get corrected. Suntech deserves a premium due to its superior financial strength and long-term supply contracts, but the underlying nature of the business is similar for both companies. The very low valuation along with outstanding growth projections make Trina a good fit in the small-cap growth portion of investment portfolios.

Trina Analysis:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. Trina Solar (TSL) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Related Posts:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Stock Analysis - 08/08.
2. LDK Solar (LDK) - Stock Analysis - 03/08.
3. Solar Manufacturer Comparison (STP, TSL, YGE, CSIQ) - 11/07.
4. Suntech Power Holdings (STP) - Stock Analysis - 09/07.

Retirement Portfolio – Mid Year Update

Our retirement accounts represent about 30% of our total assets. They are spread out over two Fidelity accounts, one Vanguard account, and one Schwab account. Below is a consolidated spreadsheet of our holding and performance details of the mutual funds held in our 401K and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) as of YTD 07/31/2008:









































































Symbol% of PortfolioFund FeesFund Return 2008 (After Fees)Comments
Dodge & Cox Stock Fund (DODGX)5.560.52(15.07)A Large cap value fund with a history of outperforming the S&P500 index. Has very low turnover ratio. The fund is very big (~70B) and so outperformance may be harder to come by going forward.
Fidelity Diversified International Fund (FDIVX)21.770.97(13.51)Diversified large-cap international growth fund. This fund is very big at over 58B. Turnover is at 58%. Has a history of outperforming its related index, the MSCI EAFE.
American Beacon Small Cap Value (AVPAX)4.921.06(5.52)A Small-cap value fund with about 1.2B of total assets under management. Turnover at 48%.
Hotchkis & Wiley Mid-cap Value (HWMIX)2.651.02(13.71)A mid-cap value fund with about 2.4B of total assets under management. Turnover at 45%.Top 10 holdings account for 38% of assets.
Vanguard Institutional Index Fund (VINIX)2.800.05(12.65)Attempts to replicate S&P500 index performance.
Fidelity Intermediate Term Bond Fund (FTHRX)12.88 0.45(0.45)None.
Artisan Mid-cap Value (ARTMX)2.791.22(13.09)None.
Fidelity Small Cap Stock Fund (FSLCX)4.121.08(9.87)None.
Calomos Growth A (CVGRX)1.371.44(14.48)A 12B large cap growth fund. The top 10 holdings represent about 27% of assets.
Schwab S&P500 Index (SWPIX)1.170.36(12.73)An index fund that tracks the performance of the S&P500 index benchmark.
William Blair International Growth (WBIGX)1.321.67(16.90)A 5B large cap international fund with between 10 and 25% exposure to emerging markets.
Vanguard Index Trust 500 Index (VFINX)6.290.18(12.70)An index fund that tracks the performance of the S&P500 index benchmark.
Vanguard Pacific Stock Index (VPACX)6.520.27(11.01)An index fund that tracks the performance of the MSCI Pacific index benchmark.
Vanguard Inflation Protected Securities (VIPSX)1.970.204.58Invests in inflation indexed bonds (primarily US) with maturities between 7 and 20 years.
Vanguard Long-Term Bond Index (VBLTX)1.840.18(1.54)An index fund that tracks the performance of a market-weighted bond index with a long-term dollar-weighted average maturity.
Vanguard Emerging Market ETF (VWO)8.360.25(14.50)None.
Fidelity International Real Estate Stock Fund (FIREX)1.190.96(20.37)None.
Fidelity Small Cap Growth Fund (FCPGX)4.171.09(15.78)None.
Fidelity Select Technology (FSPTX)1.820.88(19.23)A sector specific fund focused on large cap technology stocks with about 2B in assets under management. Top 10 holdings account for 45% of total assets.
Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPHX)2.240.87(12.07)A sector specific fund focused on large cap healthcare stocks with about 2B in assets under management. Top 10 holdings account for 38% of total assets.
Pension Plan3.2103.70Company Fully Vested Cash Balance Pension Plan.
Cash and Money Market0.0700None.


The total returns YTD as of 07/31/2008 were –10.39%. The performance compare well with the returns of popular domestic indices as many of the indices are down close to 15%. We reduced risk by opting for a 40-40-20 allocations among Domestic, International, and Bonds/Alternatives in the beginning of the year as compared to a 100% domestic stock portfolio and that accounts for the better performance in the down market.

We made a couple of minor reallocations on 08/01/2008 - One of our employer profit sharing plans allocated a few shares to our 401k plan. This along with 7% from our international holding in the Fidelity Diversified International Fund (FDIVX) was reallocated into a new holding in Fidelity Low Priced Stock Fund. This mid-cap fund has a long history of index out-performance but we couldn’t invest in the fund previously because it was closed to new investors. Recently, the status of the fund has changed from a ‘semi-hard close’ to a ‘soft-close’. That means investors in 401K plans are allowed to invest on the fund while it is still closed for retail investors.


Related Posts:

1. 401K/IRA Account 2007 Performance Summary - 01/08.
2. 401K/IRA Account – Asset Allocation for 2008 – Part 1.
3. 401K/IRA Account – Asset Allocation for 2008 – Part 2.
4. Retirement Portfolio – Mid Year Update.
5. Asset Allocation Adjustments to Retirement Portfolio in the face of market correction – 10/08.
6. 401K/IRA/Retirement Account 2008 Performance Summary - 01/09.
7. 401K/IRA/Retirement Account 2009 Reallocations - 01/09.
8. 401K & Retirement Accounts Performance - Mid Year 2009 Update - 07/09.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo – Trip Report/Review


Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, formerly Marine World, has morphed from an animal park into an amusement park with animal attractions over the last few years. Originally, the parks ownership was under the non-profit Marine World Foundation. Since 1999, Six Flags, a struggling public enterprise, controlled the parks operations. In early 2007, Six Flags exercised an option to buy exclusive rights to the park. Great America in Santa Clara, which we reviewed previously, is a comparable park as far as rides and attractions.

The park opens at 10:30 AM and there is a good 10-minute walk to the park or a good 10 minute wait for the tram. Pricing for parking is steep at $15. Ticket pricing at the counter is $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for children under 48”. The website has better deals when purchasing tickets online. While this pricing sounds reasonable, inside the park ridiculously overpriced items line up to fleece guests. Day use lockers offered at $9 just outside the park entrance is but one of such.

The biggest challenge is to structure the day around the various shows. Undoubtedly, the crowd pleaser is the Sea Lion show. Unfortunately, there is only a single show at 12 PM. Some shows have only two showings. We missed several shows although we did find the time to see the Sea Lion show, the Dolphin show, the Killer Whale show, the Bird show, and the Looney Tunes show. In general, the shows are incapable of holding the interest of the audience compared to the shows we have seen in yesteryears in the same park – the animals and personnel are now distributed among the various parks with each park having comparatively fewer overall participants. As for the rides, the lines were very long as the park was really packed on the weekend day we visited. We only found time to do the Monsoon falls and called it a day at around 7 PM as the scorching heat made it almost impossible to appreciate anything. With time and energy, we could have fared better on the rides. At an additional cost of $20 ($17.99 online) flash pass allow visitors to cruise to the front of the line but is only applicable on the following rides: Boomerang Coast to Coaster, Kong, Medusa, Monsoon Falls, Roar, Tazmanian Devil, and Tony Hawk's Big Spin.

Few incidents lent a negative feel to the visit.
  • While waiting our turn at the “Monsoon Falls” the coordinator decided on the spur that the boats are going to be fully loaded which meant people in a group may not be able to sit together. The only exception was parent and child. While that in it was acceptable given the length of the lines, the coordinator kept insisting over the microphone that if any visitor had a different opinion, they could ‘leave the line and that would be OK with them’. Such rude remarks are not becoming for a service company.
  • Around 6 PM, one-park personnel frantically started policing people off the path though there was no mention or indication anywhere of anything occurring around that time. They were making way for the Discovery Kingdom Character Cavalcade. The initial elation we felt on being able to watch the cavalcade up-close swiftly disappeared when the ludicrous show put in their appearance. The entire cavalcade consisted of just two or three vehicles with few characters! Even the kids had trouble figuring out what that was all about and several guests commented on why they even bothered. The only guess is that Six Flags was also attempting to have some sort of a pageant in place as in other popular parks.
  • Managing of the auto lines to the park entry leaves a lot to be desired: if of the six counters only four is operational, it is not rocket science to open two on either side and alleviate a lot of stress for the parks visitors.
Our trip was worthwhile mostly because it was a company picnic. The kids enjoyed the shows but the total experience for the parent is a yawn at best. We would hesitate to visit this park with our own money.


Related Posts:

  1. Wonderla, Kochi
  2. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo
  3. Great America Santa Clara
  4. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  5. Trip Report to Genting

Last Updated: 10/2015. 


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