But as soon as they splutter and rattle into life, belching choking clouds of smoke, passengers cram into every available space, sometimes even the luggage roof-rack.
For residents of villages around Domboshava, a growth point about 20 km north of Harare, these battered and ancient Peugeot sedans and pick-up trucks, long retired from service in Harare where they are now likely to attract unwanted police attention, are the only reliable form of transport.
While commuter omnibuses are a common sight in Domboshava, these only ply the Harare route and do not venture into the hinterland where the roads are no more than dusty tracks.
But these are the only “roads” connecting the bustling growth point to the mines in the Pote area and to a government training centre, where most villagers frequently travel to and from on their daily business.
“Our roads are so bad that motorists are reluctant to venture into these areas yet people need to travel between Mverechena Shopping Centre, for instance, and Pote while others go to the training centre on business daily,”one resident said.
“The centre is about 2,5 km from Mverechena while Pote is about 14 km away.”
For the operators of the jalopies, the bad roads have brought mixed fortunes.
Biggie Mutukula (38) said plying the Mverechena-Pote route for US$1 per passenger on a one-way trip had for a long time sustained him and his family of five.
A trip to the training centre costs five rand and only the small cars ply that route because it is closer to the shopping centre.
“We have other jobs that we are qualified for but there are no employment opportunities in this area,” said Mutukula. “Going to Harare to look for a job is futile so pirating is the only alternative and we are fortunate to have these old vehicles to make that possible.”
Mutukula, a qualified carpenter and thatcher, said he once led a good life getting thatching contracts from white commercial farmers who lived in Domboshava and surrounding farms.
He said it was difficult to do more than one trip a day and be able to pocket US$10 as there were too many operators and few passengers.
The driver of one of the “pirate taxis” said police and council officers, who frequently pounced on them, also made their operations difficult as they demanded bribes which sometimes exceeded their daily takings.