What should I look for in a used Ford Escort hatchback?
In a word, rust. It munches through the rear chassis rails, the rear wheel-arches, the bottom of the fuse box and under the battery. It can be halted but the cost of a professional repair could easily add up to what you paid for the car.
A service history, backed with receipts, is also vital because the engines corrode and blow head gaskets if oil and coolant changes are missed. They can last beyond 100,000 miles if they're looked after, but the diesels need their timing belts changed every three years or 36,000 miles; for petrols it's five years or 60,000 miles.
After 50,000 miles, the shock absorbers and suspension bushes can wear and cause MoT test failure. Replacing them isn't an expensive job, but the cost soon adds up if you need to replace them all.
Electrical faults are thankfully rare, but the fuse box can rot through and cause all kinds of problems.