You're correct, in my price range I've been finding mostly 00-04s. From what I hear it's best to stay away from the 2000s as they tend to be problem-prone.
The Zetec occasionally has issues but nothing major it seems, not nearly enough to look for the lower-powered Duratec.
Could someone point me to a thread dealing with common Zetc issues? I remember looking at one a while back but can't seem to find it, even with the search function.
Does anyone have a specific preference (like the 2.3 in a 03-04) that they are biased towards that I should keep an eye out for? A while back I saw a Kona edition on ebay that was in really nice shape, had the roof rack and everything! Really wish I could have bought that but I didn't have the funds then :(