Thinking of buying your sweetie a GPS for Christmas?

Imagine the look on his face as he plays with this big-boy toy. Imagine her no longer showing up late for important dates thanks to that friendly, mellifluous minder.

Whatever you do, prepare for all this directional bliss to be fleeting. If you live in the suburbs, it's quite likely your nifty gift will be stolen.

Car stereos are so 1990s. And, thanks to debit cards, loose change has gone the way of the eight-track.

Police say most car thieves trolling the 610 area code today are drug addicts. They know a solid score when they see it suction-cupped to the windshield.

"Almost everybody has them now," says Upper Moreland Township Police Chief Thomas Nestel. "GPS is the new radio and much easier to steal."

That's because car owners practically invite the intrusion.

Perhaps you remember Nestel's 15 minutes of fame this fall after he dared to propose fining suburbanites for not locking their cars.

The ordinance was quickly scuttled as Nestel drowned in hate mail calling him a "fascist pig." His warning led to a temporary decline in car thefts, but the details of each case remain the same.

"People," he sighs, "are still putting the bait out there."

A GPS in every car?

I put hundreds of miles on my Prius hybrid each month, but apparently I'm a Luddite for still relying on a fat five-county map of the Philadelphia region and a more slender spiral guide to South Jersey.

Like Uggs, Rollerblading, cosmos, and spray-tanning, GPS is a trend I have missed.

From 2000 and 2005, just two million GPS units were sold in the United States, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

But in the last five years, prices fell and sales jumped to 50 million. By the end of 2011, half of all households will own one of the gadgets.

Today, AAA, the arbiter of all things automotive, contends that GPS devices are the No. 1 item pilfered from cars.

What Charmin is to toilet tissue Garmin is to navigation, if the brand name's daily appearance in crime reports is any indication.

GPS owners also drive in style. One Haverford Township resident recently reported being rudely relieved of two prized possessions:

"A Garmin GPS and Versace sunglasses."

Without a trace

In one brazen week this month, five of eight car thefts in Haddonfield involved Garmin GPS.

"It's not just a Jersey thing," Lower Makefield Police Chief Kenneth Coluzzi says when I ask if my neighbors are alone in their suffering.

His affluent Bucks County suburb has logged more than 300 car thefts in the last two years, and "at least half of them targeted GPS."

Easttown Township Police Chief David Obzud says the thefts hit home in rural Chester County, where residents rely on GPS to travel back roads and shortcuts. "It's a great convenience," he notes. "When they're gone, they're gone."

Philadelphia police recently busted a Frankford pawnshop where a career criminal allegedly dropped off seven Garmins in 14 days. But many of the stolen gadgets wind up for sale in flea markets or traded at a fraction of the value for drug money.

Says Haverford Police Sgt. Shant Bedrossian: "They'll take a $200 GPS unit and be happy to get $10 just to satisfy their addiction."

GPS thefts hardly seem like a major crime, but Philadelphia cops have been concerned enough to print safety guides for would-be buyers at big-box stores.

"They're the hot item for the holidays," explains Sgt. Joe Cela.

The fliers advise drivers never to program a GPS with their home address and always to hide the device when parking for the night. To fully protect the investment, best to travel with paper towels and Windex.

"People remove the GPS from the window, but the suction-cup mark is still visible," Cela explains. "You have to wipe that off, too."

Reach me at myant@phillynews.com or 215-854-4670. Visit my Web page and connect on Facebook and Twitter at philly.com/kinney.