help from you ford gurus! Escort or countour???

21 year old daughter in entering 4th year of college. Her 1990 Corolla just got totaled (her fault). Still drivable until end of July when registration
runs out. (runs great but front end is twisted, cant open hood)
I need to get her a car to get around until she graduates and starts making some money.
Can you tell me anything about (or to watch out for) contours and escorts. I've seen alot of them around the $3,000 I can afford.
Looking at a 98 escort with 112,000 miles for $3000. havent test driven it yet.
She likes a 1990 honda prelude with only 72,000 miles (yeh,right) I think 14 years is to old even for a honda? ($3,000)
is the 98 escort at the biggining , middle or end of a design change?
Entry level car I believe, How it the reliability on escorts when you get into the 100,000's of miles???
Are escorts interference or free running? (should I change the timeing belt right away?)
Any info on these cars or what you think might be a good ford option would be GREATLY appreciated.
Steve
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The Escort was redesigned for the '97 model year (early 1996)...the sedan was discontinued in 2002, the ZX2 is still produced for the time being.

Plenty of fleets still use them for daily service.

They're not interference but the timing belt should be changed at that mileage (Ford's recommended interval is 120K)

Main things to check/watch out for are the rear springs (prone to breakage) and the auto trans (change fluid regularly, don't buy one where the fluid looks dark/black and/or it's acting up). Other than that, they're decent but there's always the usual things prone to wear/breakage with high mileage depending on how that particular car has been used/maintained. One other thing to watch out for--if the speed sensor (VSS) has to be replaced, chance are you'll need dynamite to get it out...they have a nasty habit of seizing/melting in the transmission case. It's a bigger issue with the manual transmission as you need to remove it to add fluid to it.
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Thanks!

Can you tell if a belt has already been changed?
(change fluid regularly, don't buy one where the fluid

What would be an indication of "acting up"? I'd test drive, test reverse, then forward, accelerate hard and feel smoothness of shifts then try with easy acceleration. If it has OD, I'd feel for it to engage smoothly. Not sure what a bad tranny would feel like???
Thanks for the info!!! Steve
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Contours seem to go a long time. I have a 97 V6 with about 107,000 mi. I love it. I've only had had to change a wheel bearing and the usual items -- light bulbs, belts, brakes.
A mechanic I know says the car should go 200,000+ mi.
Jeff
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