A customer who uses AOL for both personal and business-related e-mail recently called me with a problem.  He had encountered the following error message when starting AOL on one of the accounts:

“An error occurred while loading a file.  AOL will attempt to restore the file.”

All he could do at that point was click OK.  Afterward, he connected to AOL, but when he looked at the list of e-mails, all he could see were the envelopes – everything else was blank!  To make matters worse, he was able to open these e-mails, but that was ridiculously dangerous without knowing who had sent them.

This customer was using the latest version of AOL on Windows Vista.  I searched in the usual places, and read every discussion thread to make sure I understood what the problem was.  However, nothing seemed to indicate what actions would be appropriate, especially when this customer could use a different screen name and have full functionality (meaning he could see who the e-mails were from).  That fact alone ruled out uninstalling and re-installing the AOL software.

It took some time, but I was able to uncover a solution that worked.  First, I backed up the Personal Filing Cabinet (PFC).  Next, I compressed the PFC.
Note that each of these processes requires you to be signed out of AOL.

To backup the contents of your PFC:

  1. Click the Mail menu and select Mail Settings.
  2. Click the Manage Saved Mail drop-down menu and select Backup.
  3. Click the Backup Now button.
  4. When the task is finished, click the Save button.

To compress the PFC:

  1. Click the Mail menu and select Mail Settings.
  2. Click the Manage Saved Mail drop-down menu and this time select Compact.
  3. Click the Compact Now button, and then click the OK button.
  4. When the task is finished, click the Save button.

After both of these tasks were completed, we checked his mail.  Amazingly enough, all of the information was displayed for all of his e-mail!

Despite what the text of the error message indicated, the AOL software did not restore any file, nor did it attempt to do the correct thing.  It is clear the program detected a problem – perhaps the PFC was too big for AOL to handle properly, or had some slight form of corruption – but who ever coded this section of the program simply issued the wrong error message.  (Alternatively, it could be the correct error message, but the AOL software failed to perform the task correctly.)

I do not think that the AOL programming staff is going to correct this situation.  Despite the dozens of threads that I found in various Internet searches, I am not certain if they are aware of this problem.  Nonetheless, my customer is very pleased that I was able to solve his AOL e-mail problem.

I hope this blog post helps anyone else who encounters this error message.  Let me know!

15 Thoughts on “An AOL error message yields exasperating search results: Resolved!

  1. David Wood on November 12, 2009 at 10:12 pm said:

    I had the same problem. I tried this solution and it worked! Thank you very much. BTW, I asked AOL about this and never got an answer. David Wood

  2. This worked for me too. Thank you very much as this was very annoying on many levels. …Happy New Year!

  3. Helo Pilot on August 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm said:

    Worked. Thanks. 8/4/2010

  4. Terrific, this information is exactly what I was searching for.

  5. Dennis Bonk on March 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm said:

    Just wanted to let you know that I used your advice and my problem with an AOL error message and it was fixed. Thanks dENNIS

  6. Granna on May 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm said:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. It worked. Granna

  7. Nancy on July 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm said:

    Thank you so much. You are a genius!! I spent 2 hours with an AOL service tech (someone in Romania) and he could not solve the problem. Your directions were simple and it worked. I am so happy.

  8. Nancy Wainscott on May 14, 2012 at 9:50 am said:

    Thanks! It worked!

  9. D. Wilson on August 19, 2013 at 3:36 am said:

    I am ecstatic to report that the instructed fast, simple steps promptly fully corrected the obnoxious AOL problem for me, as well, and that all has returned to exactly how it’s perfectly supposed to be. Abundant thanks, Larry Kahm, for taking the time and effort to post the invaluable instructions!


    I have been searching high and low for a solution to this problem and your excellent advice fixed it in five minute

    Thank you!

  11. Thank you so much – this totally worked!

  12. Judge Kelly Thompson on February 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm said:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU, the loss of the mail display could not be fixed by our IT department. i followed your instructions and problem solved. you have saved a lot of stress. thanks, kt

  13. Dawn in AZ on June 30, 2016 at 12:29 am said:

    I will add my heartfelt THANK YOU to those listed above – after two days of frustration I gave this solution a try – and it worked! Very simple to do, and it took hardly any time at all…I am very appreciative.

  14. Joy Tschupp on August 16, 2016 at 9:33 am said:

    Joy on August 15, 2016

    Followed your clearly outlined instructions to fix the problem and it totally resolved the issue….cannot thank you enough!

  15. SusanMag on February 16, 2017 at 4:56 pm said:

    I have Windows 10 and this “fix” also corrected the problem for me. Thanks.

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