I bought the Escort new in January of 1996. The car was left over from the previous year, so I got a not-bad price on it.
I had one minor mishap with it in April of 1997, which bunged up the front end slightly, but most of the damage was superficial, and it was properly repaired.
December 7, 2005, I was not so lucky. I was driving home from work and a guy in a utility truck pulled out in front of me and STOPPED. It would have been annoying but fine if he had not had a huge trailer behind him; I got on the brakes but there was not enough room to stop, and hit the trailer. The collision not only mangled the front end of the car, it set off the air bags.
It wasn't a hard enough collision to trigger the fuel cutoff inertia switch, but naturally it was enough to set off the damn air bags. You can reset the inertia switch by pressing a button; the air bags--well:
Damage: $5,400.00, of which around $1,500 was replacing the airbags. With a blue book value averaging somewhere around $2,200.00, the car was naturally declared a total loss by the insurance company.
I don't think the trailer was even scratched.
About a week later the insurance company settled with me. I kept the car, paying them the $75 salvage value; this left me with a fair chunk of change and a mangled-yet-drivable car. (Drivable, but not exactly street legal. No headlights, no horn, no turn signals, and not much of a front bumper.)
I bought a wire-feed welder; I'm going to fix the car and I need a welder for some of the fixing. I'm going to try to find a similar Escort parts car and use it to replace all the broken plastic and bent sheetmetal. Most of the damage is confined to the driver's side and it does not extend much past the radiator support; it looks eminently fixable--it's just that so much needs to be replaced that buying the parts individually would not be cost-effective. (And at $60 or more per hour, the labor required to install those new parts probably formed the bulk of that $5,400 figure.)
I have spent a few hours, at most, fiddling with the car--it's been too cold to work outside much--and have made a lot more progress than I'd originally thought I would, for so little work.
I can straighten the bent metal, and I can get parts to replace the broken ones; but since the car was declared a total loss, I'm pretty sure it can never have full-coverage insurance on it ever again, even though Illinois doesn't issue salvage titles on cars older than 10 years.
At least I get a welder out of the deal. Ooh, tools!