'00 Civic VP - grinding noise that stops when braking, loud groan/whine while in reverse?

Hi all,
I have a 2000 Honda Civic VP with about 75,000 miles on it. Recently, I've noticed a high-pitched grinding noise coming from what sounds like the front end wheel wells -- mostly the right, but
occasionally the left as well. It seems to be random/intermittent... I'd say it happens maybe 50% of the time I drive, and it can happen at any speed. Occasionally it happens when I make a sharp turn, but most times it doesn't. The noise will always stop completely if I so much as tap my brakes. There's no vibration and it doesn't affect my driving or deceleration in any way. I know that a grinding noise that only happens when you brake means you should replace the pads, but does a noise that *stops* when you brake mean the same thing? Could it be my wheel bearings or something that needs a little grease?
Also, unrelatedly (I think), there's a really loud groaning sort of noise that happens when I'm driving in reverse. It almost sounds like a cat meowing/whining, but REALLY loud. Happens about 80% of the time I'm in reverse, and it goes away once I'm in drive. It has no effect on driving, as far as I can tell, but it sounds kinda scary. Totally clueless on that one.
Any advice you could provide would be very much appreciated. I've been overcharged/misled at repair shops more than a few times (as a single girl in her 20s -- I still get mechanics who tell me to "just get your parents to pay" for car repair work!) so I'd love to go in with a rough idea of what it could be, just so I don't have to wade through a bunch of offers for stuff I don't need, and this seemed like a good place to go to start gathering info.
Thanks in advance for your help!
Cheers, Stephanie
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Stephanie Anne wrote:

================================== All Hondas (even automatics) make that noise in reverse, especially if you back uphill. Your brakes are telling you they need to have new pads installed. That part is in the owner's manual. It's the first place you need to look.
'Curly'
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From your description it sounds like the brakes are warning you to pay attention to them. If ignored long they will grind into the disks and make it much more expensive.
I understand what you are saying about mechanics taking advantage of women. Not all do, but many of those who do are really outrageous. One who was trying to cheat a woman in the alt.autos.volvo forum out of $5000 years ago still makes me angry. So take your sweetest smile (the one with the will of steel behind it!) and take your car to your friendly Honda dealerand to a few brake places. Nearly all brake shops will do a free inspection in hopes of getting your business. Probably none will let you watch closely while the wheels are removed and the brake pads removed, but most will let you see on the car what they are talking about. Those that don't are a little suspect but not necessarily dishonest.
What you should see and hear: *"The front brake pads are worn out." The pads are steel plates about the size of the palm of your hand with biscuits of "friction material" bonded to them. The thickness of the friction material is the issue - they should be about a quarter inch thick when new and are worn out when they get down to a couple millimeters thick. One or more pads should have a metal "cricket" - a scraper that makes noise when the pads are worn out. That should explain some of the sounds you are hearing, like the high pitched grinding. *"The rear pads (brake shoes in your model if the rear brakes are drum brakes) need to be deglazed." Roughing up the friction surfaces are the usual place to start in stopping the groaning you hear when backing up. Noises and soft pedals are the hard parts of brake work, so follow your instincts as to which places are likely to provide service if the noise comes back a week later.
What you may see and hear: *"The front calipers need to be rebuilt or replaced." If most of the shops say this, it's probably true. If a few do, be skeptical. Uneven wear on the pads is the big clue; if some pads are worn visibly more than others or especially if any are worn at an angle, the calipers need work. If any need it all should be done on the theory they are all exposed to the same thing. (If you have rear drums they aren't likely to need this.) *"The rear brakes need to be cleaned up" (may be the same caliper situation as the front if they are disk brakes in the rear). Again, the howling thing. *"The rear pads/shoes are worn out." Not expected - the fronts wear faster than the rears, but dragging calipers can wear rear pads rapidly. Seeing is believing. *"The front disks need to be "turned" (shaved on a lathe), but if they are thinner than the minimum they need to be replaced." They should be able to measure the disks on the car and tell you whether they are too thin. It is standard procedure to turn disks when pads are replaced and drums when shoes are replaced. If you see gnarly ground areas on the disk it needs to be replaced because the pads wore out - you will see that on the pad, too. *"The brakes need to be bled." Hmm... maybe, maybe not. If a shop passes the other sanity checks, believe them on this. Otherwise it can be another way of getting into your wallet.
What you should NOT hear: *"The master cylinder needs to be overhauled or replaced." None of your symptoms suggest master cylinder trouble - that always shows up as the pedal not behaving normally... soft, sinks to the floor, things like that. *"Your ABS needs something." Same thing - nothing suggests ABS trouble. *"We always do all four wheels, including the calipers and wheel cylinders. Anything else is not safe." Yeah, they might go broke without suckers to keep them in business.
For each shop, get a written estimate and ignore dire warnings about your brakes being likely to fail at any moment or that they can't legally put the car back together. Well, if a brake pad is down to the metal or the matching disk is chewed up that may be true, but otherwise they have to return your car as you brought it in with disclaimers on the estimate. Plead that you have to pick up your baby from wherever and will be right back (insert sweet smile here) then go on to the next shop. If one gives you good answers and your instincts are that they are being straight with you, you can stick with them. The Honda dealer may be more expensive once you get into calipers, but the genuine Honda pads and disks are better than what any of the brake shops will want to sell you and are well worth the small premium in price.
For even more info, see http://tegger.com/hondafaq/faq.html#brakes
Mike
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Mike,
That was unbelievably helpful. Thank you so, so much! I took my car in for an estimate this morning. Apparently just the front pads need to be replaced; the crazy loud yowling noise is just the back brakes being wet (?!).. indeed, it seems to be a normal thing with Hondas. Huh. So much for not startling everyone in parking garages :)
I really can't thank you enough for all the information. I printed it out & will keep it in my glovebox. You probably saved me a boatload of cash, time and trouble. Cheers!
All best, Stephanie
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Glad it worked out so well, Stephanie. Now you even have a shop you can have at least some confidence in!
Mike
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